Lawmakers in California are proposing legislation that would require an “anti-theft protection” feature installed in smartphones and tablets sold or shipped into California
The “kill switch” bill being introduced this spring in Sacramento is aimed at combating theft crimes of mobile devices, which lawmakers say has risen dramatically in recent years. The kill switch allows an owner to remotely disable his or her device in the event it is lost or stolen.
Will the Kill Switch Law Prevent Robbery in California?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that smartphones and tablets are the target of nearly one-third of all robberies in the United States. 1
Lawmakers believe the legislation will reduce theft crimes in California because would-be thieves of smartphones and tablets will be less likely to steal the devices if they know the equipment can be made inoperable once discovered missing.
“With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available,” stated California State Senator Mark Leno. 2
Who Opposes the Idea?
Opponents to the bill, which includes the wireless services industry, say that they already provide anti-theft services to their customers. Opponents also say the kill switch could make it easier for a thief to hack into the devices.
“Our members are continuing to explore and offer new technologies to address these crimes while not inadvertently creating a ‘trap door’ that hacker and cybercriminals could exploit,” The Wireless Association said in a statement. 3
Why the Wireless Industry Doesn’t Like the Kill Switch Idea
Last year, Samsung electronics proposed putting a kill switch in their devices. However, major U.S. wireless providers killed the idea.
Wireless providers offer their customers insurance plans to cover lost, damaged or stolen devices. Consumers have to pay extra for the insurance plans which of course, translate into big profits for wireless carriers.
A state-mandated kill switch for your iPhone or iPad could make consumers less likely to purchase insurance plans to cover a lost or stolen device.
Should California Pass a Law Requiring Kill Switches?
No one wants to be the victim of a crime. Being the target of a robbery, for example, can be a frightening and devastating experience. We all want to feel safe and know that our property is secure.
The kill switch isn’t a new idea. Products and services to remotely disable your car have been available for years. The wireless industry can adapt to any financial losses it may experience due to the passage of what appears to be a no-brainer law like a kill switch for your phone or tablet.
The problem is, adding kill switches to electronic devices may not produce the drop in theft crime that lawmakers intend. More legislation doesn’t necessarily translate to improving our lives. In fact, property crime could increase, as thieves have to steal more devices to find one they can use.
Also, if there is a way to get around a roadblock, a clever person can usually find one. That’s why jail-broken iPhones exist. Is adding a kill switch something a crafty hacker can exploit? Maybe. Would a kill switch inadvertently give cyber crooks the backdoor the industry fears? It is possible.
Kill switches may not have the deterrent effect lawmakers are hoping for.
What Wallin & Klarich Thinks
Perhaps the best answer is for the wireless industry to develop and offer an optional disabling and tracking feature for phones and other devices which could be made available on a subscription basis, similar to lojack. Lojack is already available for a laptop computer, as well as for vehicles.
However, if after a reasonable period of time, the wireless industry fails to come up with an affordable option to accomplish this “kill-switch” concept, the government will have no choice but to step in.
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1. [KABC-TV, Los Angeles: “Smartphone ‘kill switch’ bill proposed by California lawmakers;” http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/state&id=9423332]↩