California’s Proposed Smartphone Kill Switch Law: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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A California bill has been introduced that might make so-called “kill switches” mandatory in smartphones. The measure aims to reduce smartphone theft. Here’s what we know so far about this developing story.

1. The Bill Has Big-Name Supporters

According to the LA Times, the “kill switch” bill has plenty of supporters. In addition to State Senator Mark Leno (interviewed in the audio clip above), other power players expected to support the bill include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, and George Gascón, San Francisco’s district attorney.

2. Smartphone Theft Is a Real Problem

The San Francisco Examiner notes that smartphone theft is the most frequent property crime in America. A Southern California NBC affiliate adds that phone-related thefts are an especially bad problem in California. As the report states:

“In San Francisco, more than 50 percent of robberies involve a mobile device. In Los Angeles, cell phone thefts increased by 12 percent last year.”

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3. The Bill Could Go Into Effect in 2015

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According to the New York Times, if the bill becomes law, it could go into effect as early as January 1, 2015. Companies that sold smartphones and tablets without kill switches after that date might face a $2,500 fine for each device sold.

4. Not Everyone Agrees That Kill Switches Are the Answer

The idea of a “kill switch” is simple enough, in theory. If your phone gets stolen, the switch would somehow disable the phone. A phone that doesn’t work isn’t easy for a thief to offload. The “switch” could be something as simple as sending a “self-destruct” code to the phone via SMS.

However, not everyone agrees that kill switches are a viable idea. CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the cellphone carriers, famously came out against kill switches last year. PC World reported that the CTIA sent a filing to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, entitled “Why a ‘Kill Switch’ isn’t the answer.” They argue that a kill switch could be used by thieves and hackers just as easily as by consumers.

In the video above, Bloomberg reporters discuss the SEC’s review of kill switches, including whether or not they are viable.

5. The Clock Is Ticking

Lawmakers have been putting a lot of pressure on cell phone manufacturers to install kill switches in recent years. TIME reports that hearings on the proposed kill switch bill will be held “this spring,” while The State reports that smartphone makers have been given a June 2014 deadline to propose their antitheft ideas.