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California Axes Smartphone ‘Kill Switch’ Legislation

Proposal would have mandated anti-theft software be installed on smartphones sold in the state.

California lawmakers narrowly shot down legislation that would have required anti-theft software be installed on all smartphones sold in the state.

In a Senate hearing on April 24, the proposal did not reach the minimum 21 votes to pass. The final tally was 19 yes votes to 17 no votes, with one senator abstaining. Senate Bill 962 was sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Had the measure passed and eventually became law, it would have mandated kill-switch technology in smartphones that let users remove data from their devices remotely and render the phone inoperable if stolen. California is one of several states to introduce bills this year on the topic, joining Illinois, Minnesota and New York.

The wireless industry has lobbied against kill-switch legislation. A spokesperson from CTIA-The Wireless Association turned down a Government Technology request for comment on the Minnesota proposal last month.

In written testimony on Minnesota’s kill-switch legislation, CTIA's John Marinho, vice president of Technology and Cybersecurity, said the industry and its members share the concerns over mobile device theft. But while a number of solutions exist to remotely lock and wipe a device, the technology is constantly changing to respond to new threats.

That hardline stance softened somewhat last week, however. CTIA announced that the wireless industry would provide a "baseline anti-theft tool" as either preloaded software or available for download on new models of smartphones made by participating handset manufacturers and sold by participating

Users have to turn on the functionality, however. Because it’s not automatic, smartphone owners might forget, sparking further debate on whether the anti-theft move would really be effective.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.
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