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Mandatory “kill-switches” for smartphones to prevent theft?

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-Photo by Jennifer Schlueter

Bill awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature
By Jennifer Schlueter
With our smartphones being worth up to $700, $800 or even more, they have become favorable objects for thieves. Black market re-sales for stolen phones are lucrative for robbers, especially overseas, where American smartphones are more expensive.
According to Consumer Reports, smartphone thefts in the US have almost doubled from 2012 to 2013 making them the leading property crime. Major cities in California are highly affected by this epidemic. In San Francisco and Oakland, cellphones were a target in 65 percent or rather 75 percent of all robberies in 2013, estimates the San Francisco city district attorney’s office. Oakland police data reveals that in the first half of this year over 80 percent of armed robberies involved mobile devices. Los Angeles has seen a 12% increase in cellphone thefts last year, reports NBC.
To fight these alarming numbers, State Sen. Mark Leno introduced a bill that would require smartphone manufacturers to install a “kill-switch” into their new, California-sold devices, which would make them inoperable if they fall into the wrong hands. Rightful owners would be able to lock their phones with antitheft software. According to CNBC, the bill exempts “smartphone models introduced before Jan. 1, 2015, that could not ‘reasonably be re-engineered’ to incorporate the anti-theft technology” and excludes tablets. Should the bill become law, “manufacturers will have until July 1, 2015, to incorporate the theft deterrent, which users would be asked to turn on when they set up their new devices,” CNBC states.
“Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California’s biggest cities,” Leno’s statement reads.
The CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless telecommunication industry, opposed the bill according to a statement by their vice president of external and state affairs, Jamie Hastings. “We urge the Governor to not sign this bill, since uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation,” said he. “State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”
However, the bill’s sponsor San Francisco District Attorney George Gasc√≥n says that “the manufacturers have indicated that they will implement this technology nationwide with passage of this bill, and with organized crime rings shipping smartphones stolen in the U.S. overseas, passage of this legislation will have implications for public safety around the globe.”
Samsung and Apple, along with other US mobile device manufacturers have already carried out antitheft measures and are continuously working on them.
After prior denial and several revisions, the “kill-switch” bill was recently approved 27-8 by the California State Assembly and is now being reviewed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Following Minnesota, California would be the second state to require a “kill-switch”. In May, the Midwestern state has passed a similar law. Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew fell victim to two teenage robbers, who had beaten him down because he tried to prevent them from stealing his phone.

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