California Lawmakers Pull Plug On Smartphone “Kill Switch” Law

With nearly 3 million phones vanishing — often into the hands of sticky-finger thieves — each year, there has been a recent push to introduce legislation that would require wireless providers to include a “kill switch” functionality in all devices, allowing phone owners to remotely deactivate their devices until, and only if, they are located. But one such bill in California has been thwarted, and supporters are blaming the wireless industry.

The California bill would have required that new smartphones not only include the kill switch functionality, but that the service be opt-out by default, meaning that device users would have to actively turn the kill switch option off. This would mean a substantial increase in the number of phones with the functionality turned on.

Even though wireless industry trade group CTIA recently announced a voluntary measure to bring kill switches to phones by 2015, the same organization has lobbied heavily against the California legislation and other, similar bills at the state and federal level.

The California bill fell two votes short of making it through the state senate on Thursday, and the legislation’s author say it’s due to the lobbying efforts of the CTIA.

“When that kind of force comes up against a public safety issue, one would hope and believe there would be votes there to protect public safety and not the interests of the powerful special interests,” state senator Mark Leno tells the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has been a major supporter of legislative efforts to require kill switches, as more than half of the robberies in his cities are related to theft of wireless devices.

“Today’s decision by the State Senate is disheartening given the rampant rate of victimization,” Gascón said after yesterday’s vote. “With their no vote, 17 members of the Senate chose to protect billion dollar industry profits over the safety of the constituents they were elected to serve.”

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