California ‘kill switch’ legislation could move national discussion

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Legislation is heading to California's governor that would force cell phone manufacturers to include a Legislation is heading to California’s governor that would force cell phone manufacturers to include a “kill switch” in all devices sold in the state.

The California legislature has passed legislation mandating that “kill switches” be built into all smartphones sold in the state starting next summer. If passed, the law could have national implications.

Gov. Jerry Brown  in the coming weeks is expected to sign the legislation into law that will make it illegal for any cell phone supplier or carrier in the state to sell a device not outfitted with that technology.

If the bill is signed, manufacturers will have until July 1, 2015, to ensure all phones sold in California are equipped with the ability to “render the essential features of the smartphone inoperable when not in the possession of the authorized user.”

“Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California’s biggest cities,” state Sen. Mark Leno said in a statement.

There is an argument that this California law could become de facto national legislation as cell phone manufacturers are unlikely to make specific features for phones in a specific area. Instead, some argue, they are likely to outfit all phones with that technology, making it available to all consumers in the country.

Although the owner would have the option to disable the function under the language of the bill, some users might see it as essential as they will be prompted to enable the feature upon initial setup of the device.

State law enforcement agencies seem to be in favor of the legislation, but some manufacturers and rights groups have fought against it.

They suggest that while the “kill switch” would ostensibly be included to discourage theft, it could also be “exploited by malicious actors” as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explained in a letter written in June.

“Because it is difficult to implement a ‘kill switch’ that can only be utilized at the behest of the device user but not third parties or the government, EFF strongly believes the state should not mandate this backdoor be installed into phones in California,” the organization said.

There has been political groundswell in other parts of the country as well. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is spearheading efforts in his state. In May, Minnesota became the first state to pass a kill-switch bill.

CTIA, a trade organization that represents the wireless telecom industry, blasted Monday’s result.

“We urge the Governor to not sign this bill, since uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation,” said Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for the CTIA, in a statement. “State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

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