Lawmakers Brace For Mobile Company Opposition After Announcing Bill To Require Smartphone Kill Switches

A growing epidemic of smartphone thefts prompted state lawmakers to announce today new legislation that would require the devices to come equipped with an anti-theft deterrent known as a “kill switch.”

More than 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve the theft of a mobile phone, a rate that rises to 75 percent in Oakland, according to Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

“It’s a public safety crisis,” said Leno, who unveiled details of SB 962 along with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner at a news conference this morning in San Francisco.

Under the bill, all smartphones sold starting on Jan. 1, 2015, would come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technology that renders the phone useless if stolen. Consumers would have the choice to opt out of the kill switch.

The thefts can turn fatal, as in the case of 23-year-old Megan Boken, who was murdered in St. Louis in 2012 when two thieves stole her cell phone as she was talking to her mother.

Boken’s father Paul Boken was present at today’s news conference and said the implementation of anti-theft software on smartphones was “very personal” to him.

Boken, who lived in Southern California for 40 years, said his daughter was getting into her car in the middle of the day in a residential neighborhood in St. Louis when two thieves robbed her of her iPhone and shot her as she was speaking on the phone with her mother.

“What happened to my precious daughter Megan could happen to anyone,” Boken said.

Leno said smartphone thefts are a “crime of convenience” that will end if there’s a kill switch to give thieves no use for stolen cellphones.
“We end the convenience, we end the crime,” he said.

But while a kill switch may seem like an easy solution to smartphone thefts, lawmakers said smartphone manufacturers and carriers stand to profit financially from these crimes.

The replacement of lost and stolen smartphones and tablets is a $30 billion business in the U.S., according to Leno.

Additionally, the nation’s four biggest wireless carriers make about $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance products.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also attended today’s event in support of the bill, as did San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr.

Suhr called the theft of a smartphone a “violent crime” and said the passing of the bill would be vital.

“I can’t imagine somebody would vote against it,” Suhr said. “It’s crazy to think we can arrest our way out of it, when we can just make the device not worth stealing.”

SB 962 will be heard in Senate policy committees later this spring. The bill would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

Laura Dudnick, Bay City News

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  • mz

    The problem is a simple computer security one: if I can report my phone as stolen and have it remotely “killed,” there’s nothing to stop someone else from doing the same thing for malicious purposes. Worse yet, break into the right computer system, and you could kill every phone in the city remotely.

    I agree there’s a real theft problem we need to solve, but poorly thought legislation could well make matters worse. Consumers expect to own their phone and have it work on their terms, not be subject to a remote kill switch where their property stops working at the orders of a cell phone company.