California Passes Law Requiring All Phones Come Equipped With “Kill Switch” By 2015

Nearly four months after California lawmakers shot down a bill that would require smartphone manufacturers to include a “kill switch” function on all devices, a similar version of the law is headed to the governor’s desk for signing.

The California Senate on Monday approved a measure that would require phones made after July 1, 2015 to include a feature that allows phone owners to remotely deactivate their devices until, and only if, they are located, the Washington Post reports.

Senator Mark Leno, who proposed the legislation, says in a statement that the bill’s approval is a “huge victory for California’s smartphone consumers and mobile users across the nation who are regularly victimized for their cell phones.”

According to analysis by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, in 2012 more than half of the thefts in San Francisco and more than three-in-four in Oakland involved a smartphone, the Post reports.

So-called kill switches have been a hot topic for legislators, wireless industry insiders and consumers when discussing ways in which to curb the number of smartphone thefts. In 2013, an estimated 3.1 million phones were stolen nationally, costing consumers nearly $2.6 billion.

Back in April, the first attempt at a California kill switch bill fell two votes short of passing in the senate. The bill’s author, Leno, blamed the failure on wireless industry trade group CTIA, which lobbied heavily against the legislation, despite having previously announced a voluntary measure to bring kill switches to phones by 2015.

In June, a report [PDF] from several state attorneys general, prosecutors, police and other officials from around the country highlighted the difference a kill switch can make when it comes to phone thefts.

The “Secure Our Smartphones Initiative” found that phone thefts dramatically decreased after Apple introduced the “Activation Lock.”

In just the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies in New York involving Apple products dropped 19% and 29%, respectively. Statistics from San Francisco show a similar outcome, with iPhone robberies declining 38%.

However, the report found that at the same time that thefts of products without kill switches increased. In New York robberies and grand larcenies involving Samsung smartphones increased over 40%. In San Francisco thefts of those devices increased by 12%.

Thefts for non-Apple devices should begin to decrease now that more and more wireless companies and smartphone manufacturers are planning their own kill switch technology.

In mid-June, officials with Microsoft said that the new feature will build on the capabilities of the “Find My Phone” program currently available on Windows phones and will be offered as an update for all phones running Windows 8.0 and newer.

That same day, Google announced the next version of Android will include “a factory reset protection solution to help deter smartphone theft.”

If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the California bill kill-switch bill will be come the second of its kind in the U.S. In May, Minnesota legislators approved a measure to make it the first state to pass a law requiring the feature on smartphones.

California could become the second state to require a cell phone ‘kill switch’ [The Washington Post]

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