What State Just Signed a Cell Phone Kill Switch Bill Into Law?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Losing a smartphone is a scary experience. Most smartphones have credit card information in them via the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store or Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Play accounts. Plus, it’s the digital version of an address book with everyone’s number. Further, what’s a lunch break without Candy Crush Saga or Flappy Bird?

As smartphones grow, so does the rate of smartphone thefts. In New York City, iPhone and other Apple products make up 14 percent of crime in the city reported USA Today. That piece also noted that Washington, D.C. and San Francisco have issues with smartphone theft as well. Outside these cities, theft is still an issue. Apple has instituted a kill switch in its “Find My iPhone” application, but other companies have taken no such steps.

Some states, seeing this was an issue, decided to try to force the rest of the smartphone industry into having similar antitheft software. Minnesota is the first state to sign it into law. California has also recently passed a bill in its Senate. A third federal version was introduced to committee. The sponsor of the Minnesota bill thinks it will help deter smartphone theft in the state.

“Cell phone theft is a major concern here in Minnesota and around the country,” state Senator Katie Sieben, who authored the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement. “This legislation, which is the first of its kind in the country, will help reduce the likelihood that people will be robbed of their smart phones.”

Kill switches are designed to work in that the stolen smartphone or cell phone can be shutdown remotely, rendering it unusable to thieves who want to get information from the phones or sell them on the black market. The wireless industry has been largely against the use of kill switches in the past, saying that a kill switch would make the phones much more vulnerable to hacking. However, more recently the industry has softened its stance on such software.

California’s version of the law passed its Senate, but still needs to get through the state assembly and be signed by the governor before it can become law. The current version of the bill that passed earlier in May spells out that any smartphone made or sold in California must “include a technological solution, which may consist of software, hardware, or both software and hardware, that can render inoperable the essential features of the device,” meaning that the smartphone must contain some technology that serves as the kill switch. The bill gives companies until July 2015 to sell phones without this technology.

Lastly, the federal bill — the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act – was introduced in the House by José Serrano (NY-15). Serrano is a Democrat who represents a congressional district that includes much of the Bronx and part of New York City. The bill has also been introduced in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota. GovTrack gives the bill a low chance of becoming law in either form.

So while smartphone theft is an issue, governments are attempting to mandate antitheft software with varying degrees of success.

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