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Cell Phone ‘Kill Switch’ Bill Proposed By California Leaders

Above: Smartphone theft is an ongoing problem in San Diego, according to police.

SAN FRANCISCO — Officials in California on Friday were set to outline proposed state legislation requiring smartphones and other mobile devices to have a "kill switch" that would render them inoperable if lost or stolen.

State Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and other officials scheduled a news conference about the measure to require any mobile devices sold in or shipped to California to have built-in anti-theft devices.

Leno and Gascon say the measure, which Leno plans to introduce this spring, could deter thieves from stealing smartphones. They believe the bill would be the first of its kind in the United States.

A San Francisco Democrat, Leno joins Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement officials who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.

"With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available," Leno said in a statement.

The CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.

The association has been working with the Federal Communications Commission, law enforcement agencies and elected officials on a national stolen phone database that launched in November to remove "the aftermarket."

"These 3G and 4G/LTE databases, which blacklist stolen phones and prevent them from being reactivated, are part of the solution," Michael Altschul, CTIA's senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "Yet we need more international carriers and countries to participate to help remove the aftermarket abroad for these trafficked devices."

Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the FCC. Lost and stolen mobile devices — mostly smartphones — cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, according to an FCC study.

In San Francisco alone, more than 50 percent of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile device, the San Francisco District Attorney's office said. Across the bay in Oakland, such thefts amount to about 75 percent of robberies, authorities say.

"This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions, and begin embracing the inevitability," Gascon said in a statement. "The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers."

Last year Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, proposed installing a kill switch in its devices. But the company told Gascon's office the biggest U.S. carriers rejected the idea.

Samsung has said it would continue to work with Gascon, other officials and its wireless carrier partners toward a common goal of stopping smartphone theft.

Apple, the maker of the popular iPhone, said its "Activation Lock," as part of its iOS 7 software released in the fall, is designed to prevent thieves from turning off the Find My iPhone application, which allows owners to track their phone on a map, remotely lock the device and delete its data.

In December, Gascon praised Apple for its efforts, but said "it is still too early to tell how effective their solution will be."

Gascon and Schneiderman have given manufacturers a June 2014 deadline to come up with solutions to curb the theft of stolen smartphones.

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