The Kill Switch Gets Closer

Stolen smartphones could become bricks at a moments notice soon.

Stolen smartphones could become bricks at a moments notice soon.

I have written about a proposed smartphone “kill switch” before and now it is official, at least in  California. The smartphone “kill switch” is an incredibly important function for all smartphone users and now that California has made it a law, perhaps there is hope for the rest of us.

The new law was signed into effect yesterday, August 25 and only applies to phones manufactured after July 1, 2015, and sold in California.

While its legal reach does not extend beyond the California’s borders, the inefficiency of producing phones solely for California means the kill switch is expected to be adopted by phone makers on handsets sold across the U.S. and around the world.

What is the “kill switch” legislation? 

The legislation requires a system that, if triggered by an authorized user (usually the owner of the phone), will lock a handset to essentially make it useless. The feature must be installed and activated in new smartphones, but users will be able to deactivate it if they desire, and it must be resistant to attempts to re-install the operating system.

Police can also use the tool, but only under the conditions of the existing section 7908 of the California Public Utilities Code. That gives police the ability to cut off phone service in certain situations and typically requires a court order, except in an emergency that poses “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”

The law does not specify how the system exactly locks the phone, nor what happens to the data on the phone when it is locked. Each manufacturer can come up with their own system.

Legislation, in this case actually may end in a big consumer benefit.

The law follows pressure on phone makers from the state’s law enforcement community to do something about rising incidents of smartphone theft, which has become one of the most prevalent street crimes in the state.

Apple, Google and Microsoft Respond

Apple has already responded and added a feature called “Activation Lock” into its iOS 7 operating system, which meets all requirements of California’s kill switch law bar one – it doesn’t come enabled in new phones. That will have to change.

Both Google and Microsoft have said they are introducing similar features in upcoming revisions to their smartphone operating systems.

48 To Go

The law makes California the second state in the U.S. to pass legislation aimed at reducing smartphone theft. Minnesota passed a law this past June as well. It is hoped that more states will follow with similar legislation but as indicated by Apple, Google and Microsoft that may not even be necessary in the end.

The kill switch function was actively opposed by the wireless industry until earlier in 2014, when carriers and their lobbying group reversed course and came out in favor of the plan. The wireless industry received additional persuasion in the form of two bills introduced to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Related Posts

Kill Switch 101 (June 25, 2014)

Knowing You Phone’s Kill Switch (April 1, 2014)

Share This: