Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner file photoSmartphone robberies accounted for half of the robberies in San Francisco last year; nationally

Bill to require mandatory kill-switch feature in cellphones passes Senate

A bill proposed by State Senator Mark Leno that would require mobile device manufacturers to include anti-theft kill-switch technology in all devices sold in California passed the Senate today in a 25-8 vote. 

The bill, SB 962, would require manufacturers to produce cellphones that can be rendered inoperable if stolen from the original owner.

It previously failed to pass by just two votes on the Senate floor. Since then, both Microsoft and Apple dropped their opposition to the bill, which may have influenced the passage of the bill today. 

The bill will next go before the State Assembly. 
Cellphone thefts have become increasingly common in San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas. Cellphones are the targets of over 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco, leading Leno, District Attorney George Gascón, Supervisor London Breed, and other local officials to campaign for mandatory kill-switches. 

Breed stated Tuesday that she would call for citywide legislation requiring kill-switches if Leno's bill failed. 

A survey released yesterday says that 68 percent of Americans would put themselves at risk to retrieve a stolen device from a thief. 

“The theft and robbery of smartphones is the fastest growing crime in many cities across California because thieves have a financial incentive to steal and then resell these valuable devices on the black market,” said Leno. “We can end this crime of convenience and protect the safety of smartphone consumers by ensuring that every new phone sold in our state has theft-deterrent technology installed and enabled by default. Nothing less will solve the problem.”

Although Microsoft and Apple ceased their opposition to the bill, other companies in the industry still oppose it. The wireless industry has stated that it will voluntarily include anti-theft technology in new phones by 2015, and that the legislation is therefore unnecessary. Jamie Hastings, the vice president of external and state affairs at CTIA, an industry trade group that represents cellphone manufacturers, said, “Given the breadth of action the industry has voluntarily taken, it was unnecessary for the California Senate to approve SB 962, which would mandate a specific form of anti-theft functionality.” 

Leno argues that the industry's voluntary commitment is not enough to prevent theft because consumers would have to download the kill-switch themselves rather than finding it already included on their new phones.

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