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California to Vote on Smartphone Kill-Switch (Again)

A California bill that would require smartphone makers to include functionality to remotely disable their devices in the event of theft is alive again in the capitol.

California may soon become the second state to require smartphone makers to build in a kill-switch. SB 962, which was defeated in a full Senate in May, is expected to be voted on again on Aug. 7 before the full Assembly.

Revised slightly, the spirit of the legislation remains the same. The law, if passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would require California-sold smartphones to include functionality that allows the user to remotely deactivate the device in the case of theft. Proponents suggest that such functionality would prevent loss of private data, and make the theft of such devices less attractive to thieves.

Led by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, the bill’s introduction follows a recent analysis suggesting that smartphone kill switch legislation could save an estimated $3.4 billion annually.

Groups such as the California and Los Angeles chambers of commerce, some tech groups, and wireless association CTIA oppose the legislation, suggesting that it’s bad public policy for states to pass their own technical regulations for products that are sold nationally.

Other organizations, however, including some CTIA members -- such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Blackberry, Verizon and AT&T -- recently withdrew opposition to the bill.

Minnesota is the only state to have passed legislation requiring smartphones to contain a kill switch. The law was passed in May, despite opposition from CTIA and other groups.

Concerned about the repercussions of such a law, CTIA proposed an alternate opt-in kill-switch solution for those worried about losing data in the event of device theft. Companies that supported the CTIA initiative included Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola Mobility, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless. Smartphone makers will have until July 2015 to comply with Minnesota’s new law. -- Colin Wood

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.