During the next several weeks, the California Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications will consider legislation requiring all handheld mobile devices sold in the state to include a “kill switch.” Senate Bill 962 (SB 962), co-authored by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), would require all “advanced mobile communications devices” to include software or hardware technology that could remotely render a stolen device inoperable.
Oakland elected officials are also beginning to rally behind the kill switch legislation. City Council President Pro Tempore Rebecca Kaplan sent a letter of support for SB 962 to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications chair, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).
Smartphones and tablets are targeted by thieves because of their high resale value. In Oakland, an estimated 75 percent of all street robberies include a cellphone. Kill switches, if they're adopted universally, would eliminate the financial incentive to steal by greatly reducing a device's value on the black market.
Kill switch technology already exists, but smartphone manufacturers and wireless service providers have been slow to include it in their products.
Over the last two years, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have led a public campaign to encourage leaders in the mobile device business, including Apple, Google, Samsung, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to independently develop kill switches.
Results have been underwhelming. There is currently no default, universal kill switch on the market.
Law enforcement officials, including Gascón, believe that tens of billions in profit from repurchased mobile devices and smartphone insurance policies are to blame. A 2012 report by Lookout, a smartphone security company, estimated the industry made $30 billion off or replacements for lost and stolen cell phones. The four largest carriers are estimated to have made $7.8 billion off of insurance policies.
These companies wield enough money and power to potentially sway legislation in their favor. Senator Padilla is running for California Secretary of State this year. According to Padilla's campaign finance filings, he has already received $23,900 from companies and individuals associated with the smartphone industry, including Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
If it passes, the SB 962 would go into effect on January 1, 2015. Starting next year, all handheld mobile devices sold in California would be required to have a default kill switch that could withstand all operating system resets. Violations of the law would result in a penalty of no less than $500, no more than $2,500 for each infraction.