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April 24, 2014

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CA lawmakers mull smartphone kill switch

Smartphones account for nearly half of robberies in San Francisco. (Jeremy Keith/Flickr)
Smartphones account for nearly half of robberies in San Francisco. (Jeremy Keith/Flickr)

Smartphone makers may be forced to put a ‘kill switch’ into production by January 2015 or face fines up to $2,500 for each phone sold and shipped in California without the technology thanks to a new bill introduced last week by California lawmakers.

Senate Bill 962, co-authored by Assembly member Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, attempts to stem the growing number of robberies related to mobile devices.

The bill gives manufacturers until June of this year to come up with a solution to incorporate the technology into their mobile devices.

A third of all robberies in 2012 in the U.S. involved the theft of a mobile device, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC estimates smartphone thefts cost people $30 billion a year.

In San Francisco, half of all property crimes relating to smartphones. In Oakland, smartphone thefts account for a whopping 75 percent of all property thefts, according to Mayor Jean Quan.

Speaking to AP, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said:

“We’re in California, the technological hub of the world, I can’t imagine someone would vote against [it].”

Yet there has been pushback, from industry trade group CTIA, who represents cellphone carriers like T-Mobile US, Verizon Wireless and AT&T. In July of last year, they sent a letter to the FCC detailing why a ‘kill switch’ isn’t the answer.

The solution they propose focuses on one currently in place. The FCC works with the CTIA to set up ‘black’ lists of stolen phones. Those on the list would be blocked from being reactivated by carriers participating in the program.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, however, wants to force their hand:

“This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions, and begin embracing the inevitability. The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers.”

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