A draft of Mark Leno's bill that would require all new mobile phones sold in California to come equipped with built-in and activated "kill switches" to discourage theft has passed the Senate and is headed to Governor Brown's desk for sign-off. As SFGate reports, it's been one of the most heavily lobbied bills in the California Legislature this year, however major corporate opponents like Apple and Microsoft have backed off in recent months.
According to Oakland police data, 80 percent of armed robberies in that city in the first five months of this year involved cell phones, and the SFPD says that 65 percent of robberies in S.F. involve phones. Cell phone thefts were likely the main culprit in the big spike in larcenies in S.F. in 2013 as well.
Leno's bill almost got killed in its initial call to vote in April, which led to S.F. Supervisor London Breed proposing her own local ordinance, requiring cell phones sold in the city to have kill switches a backup in case Leno's bill failed. The current bill would prohibit such local initiatives.
Perhaps facing the inevitability of needing to institute anti-theft technology, the wireless industry backed off their opposition to the bill, and compromised with Leno by having the effective date of the law moved back six months, to July 1, 2015.
That means by the middle of next year, all popular smart phone brands will come with anti-theft technology pre-installed and activated the last thing that wireless companies were fighting was the latter, preferring that consumers had to opt-in for the kill switches rather than opting out. Leno insisted that by forcing consumers to opt out, more thefts would be prevented, and therefore the bill had to require the software be pre-installed and activated. As Leno noted to the Chron, this will be the first law of its kind in the country, with the opt-out feature. "Minnesota passed a bill before ours, but it's opt-in," Leno said. "That will not make it a universal deterrent."
The remaining fear is that such technology could become vulnerable to hackers, enabling them to "kill" millions of phones at once. Let's hope that does not happen.