Bill would require ‘kill switch’ for smartphones

Getty Images file photoState Sen. Mark Leno and S.F. District Attorney George Gascon announced a bill Thursday that would require smartphones to have a "kill switch" that would render the phone inoperable if it was lost or stolen.

Tired of waiting for the mobile device industry to help stop a theft epidemic, two San Francisco politicians are taking matters into their own hands.

All cellphone manufacturers would be required to install kill switches on new phones under a proposed California law from state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and District Attorney George Gascón.

A kill switch — which is standard in some countries, but not the U.S. — can be used to remotely deactivate a stolen device, rendering it worthless on the black market.

The technology is used in Australia, where kill switches reduced mobile phone thefts by as much as 25 percent, according to Gascón, who has made cracking down on mobile device thefts his signature issue this year.

In June, Gascón and other prosecutors from across the country secured an agreement from cellphone makers that would see them come up with a theft-thwarting solution by the end of December. That deadline is now “rapidly approaching,” Gascón noted in a statement Thursday, and lawmakers are tired of companies dragging their feet.

“Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate,” Gascón said, “and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority.”

So far, only Apple has volunteered an anti-theft solution: new iPhones running iOS7 can be secured with Activation Lock, which requires a user’s Apple ID and password before a phone can be used, wiped or reactivated.

Samsung was reportedly close to introducing kill-switch technology for its Android phones, but was thwarted by wireless service providers.

That prompted Gascón last week to demand an explanation from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other carriers.

Leno plans to introduce the bill in Sacramento when the Legislature reconvenes early in the new year. The earliest the bill could be introduced is Jan. 6.

Exact details of the law — such as whether the onus to create a kill-switch function would fall on the phone manufacturer or the wireless service carrier — have yet to be drafted.

A spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cellphone industry’s most powerful lobby group, said the group had no comment.

Meanwhile, police in San Francisco blame cellphone thefts for a five-year high in crime.

There were 40,000 property crimes in The City through the end of October — the highest number of recorded crimes since San Francisco police began using computerized data tracking, or CompStat, in 2009.Bay Area NewsGeorge GasconGovernment & PoliticsMark LenoPoliticssmartphones

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