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California Legislators To Outline Bill Requiring Cell Phone ‘Kill Switches’

Evening Edition

Above: California state officials will outline proposed state legislation on Friday that would require all mobile devices sold in California to include a “kill switch” that would make cell phones inoperable if activated.

California state officials will outline proposed state legislation on Friday that would require all mobile devices sold in California to include a “kill switch” that would make cell phones inoperable if activated.

The announcement comes a day after another attempted theft of a student’s cell phone near San Diego State University. The Federal Communications Commission reports almost one in three U.S. robberies involve cell phone left.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who introduced the bill, said at a news conference Wednesday that a kill switch would make any stolen device worthless.

“What the bill will do is require that all mobile devices sold in California, as of January 1 next year, have a technological deterrence otherwise known as a kill switch, which would make the device as worthy as a brick if it is indeed stolen,” Leno said.

Critics of the bill have said hackers could also access the kill switch. Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute, said a kill switch could allow a hacker to also turn a phone into a brick.

“A kill switch could be used by an enemy, not a friend," Goldman said. "It’s possible that a hacker could get into the system and shut off the cell phone when someone actually needs it. It could be a situation where they’re relying on the availability of their cell phone to make a call and the hacker decides the phone is now bricked. So the mandating of the kill switches, basically building an infrastructure that will used for good, but also has the capacity to be used for harm. We should be thoughtful if that’s really the right approach."

Last year, Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, proposed installing a kill switch in its devices, but the company said the biggest U.S. carriers rejected the idea.

“It’s the carriers that are opposing this. Keep in mind that lost and stolen phones represent $30 billion worth of new business for them,” Leno said.

Leno is supported by San Francisco’s district attorney and several law enforcement agencies that have been demanding manufacturers do something different to combat smartphone thefts across the country.

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