Supervisor London Breed requested Tuesday that the city attorney draft legislation that would prohibit the sale of tablets or smartphones in San Francisco if they do not come equipped with kill-switch technology, which allows the owner to render the device inoperable in the event of theft.
“I want the telecomm industry to know they are not getting out of this one,” Breed said. “They cannot lobby their way past public safety concerns. If Sacramento does not act, San Francisco will and other cities will follow.”
Breed’s proposal is modeled after Senate Bill 962, legislation that state Sen. Mark Leno intends to reintroduce Thursday to require anti-theft technology in all California mobile devices for sale. It was defeated narrowly April 24 amid heavy lobbying from the telecommunications industry.
Law enforcement and other supporters of kill-switch technology believe it would curb thefts, rendering the devices virtually useless on the black market. While most violent crimes in San Francisco have decreased, robberies have increased, a rise blamed primarily on cell phone theft.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said last month that during the first quarter of this year cell phone theft dropped to 45 percent of the robberies, down from 60 percent last year. Nationwide, cell phone theft is on the rise. Last year, there were about 3.1 million people nationwide who reported a smart phone stolen, nearly double the number of victims in 2012, according to an April 17 Consumer Reports study.
Breed put a human face on her effort by pointing to the 18-year-old girl who was recently punched in the back of her head one afternoon on Eddy Street by a man who made off with her iPhone. “People like this young woman on Eddy Street continue to be in danger because thieves know that smart phones and tablets are easy to steal, easy to repurpose and easy to sell for hundreds of dollars on the streets,” Breed said.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said that he hoped the Senate would “do the right thing” and approve Leno’s bill, but if not, he signaled he would support Breed’s legislation.
The local proposal would include civil penalties and, similar to Leno’s bill, buyers would be able to opt out of the kill switch feature.
What impact a local restriction would have on businesses and consumers remains uncertain. “If some sellers or phone manufactures choose not to sell in San Francisco, so be it,” Breed said. “Those who do care about public safety will have a competitive advantage in a lucrative local market.”
If Sacramento does not pass a “kill-switch” requirement for mobile devices sold in California, San Francisco may go after it alone.