California Senate Passes Amended Smartphone Kill-Switch Bill

Weeks after the California Senate voted down legislation that would require anti-theft tech in all new smartphones, it has now passed a revised version of the bill after Apple and Microsoft withdrew their opposition. While the legislation is applauded by law enforcement groups, it is still opposed by some wireless carriers, and could face an uphill battle in the state Assembly. If passed, kill-switch technology would be required for phones sold in California that are manufactured after July 1, 2015.

“If the bill becomes law, industry experts say, it could set a new standard across the country, as many states are trying to address a dramatic rise in increasingly violent robberies of smartphones,” reports San Jose Mercury News. “New York, Minnesota, Illinois and the federal government are all considering legislation that would put anti-theft technology in cellphones.”

The article explains that the kill-switch bill requires the following:

  • Any smartphone sold in California that’s manufactured after July 1, 2015, must have technology that can render the device inoperable if it’s lost or stolen.
  • The technology must be able to withstand a hard reset and prevent reactivation of the device on a wireless network except by the rightful owner or his or her designee.
  • Consumers who don’t want a kill switch on their smartphones will be able to opt out and deactivate the technology.
  • Retailers who distribute smartphones without the required technology will be subject to a civil penalty up to $2,500 for every phone sold that fails to comply.

Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, on Thursday asked his colleagues to reconsider the kill-switch bill (SB962) with amendments that clarify the bill does not apply to tablets and that provide manufacturers additional time to comply with the rules. The tweaks made a significant difference. Apple and Microsoft waived their opposition and the bill passed in the Senate by a 26-8 vote.

“If this proposal becomes law in California, it will likely command discussion in any other states with large, urban populations where cellphone theft has become an issue,” said Ross Rubin, analyst for Reticle Research. “And now, it seems like there’s acceptance of this concept in some quarters of the wireless industry where there wasn’t before.”

“The bill had stalled in the past because of pushback from the wireless carrier industry, which argues that kill-switch software leaves phones vulnerable to hacking,” explains CNET. “The telecom industry softened its stance last month when the CTIA, a trade organization that represents the mobile-telecom companies, announced a commitment to make the the antitheft software standard on all phones from participating device makers and carriers — including Apple, Samsung, Google, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile — though ultimately the choice to include the software would be voluntary for the companies.”

The bill now has to pass the California Assembly and will also need to be approved by Governor Jerry Brown.