SF lawmaker's smartphone kill switch bill fails to pass California Senate 

  • courtesy photo
  • Tech experts joined the San Francisco District Attorney's Office on July 18, 2013, to test anti-theft technology on Apple and Samsung smartphones.
A bill that would have forced phone manufacturers to install a mandatory kill switch in all smartphones failed to pass the California Senate this afternoon.

The legislation, crafted by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, fell just two votes shy of the majority required to pass.

The bill would have required Apple, Samsung and other smartphone makers to sell their devices with the kill switch already installed, rather than offering the technology as an add-on.

Kill switches enable consumers to render their phones useless if they are stolen or lost. Smartphone thefts nearly doubled in 2013, and Gascón and other local politicians have campaigned heavily in favor of the mandatory kill switch.

The mobile device industry opposes mandatory kill switches, arguing that the technology could be exploited through government surveillance and hacking. CTIA, a tech industry lobbying group, proposed a "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" that would allow tech companies to opt in to kill switch development, rather than being pressured by lawmakers.

In a statement, CTIA representative Jamie Hastings said, “We appreciate the California Senate’s decision today to oppose SB 962. The U.S. wireless industry continues to protect its consumers’ information and help stop the theft of stolen smartphones via the ‘Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment,’ which is free to users, as well as the stolen phone databases and individual company and industry-wide consumer education initiatives." Hastings also referred consumers to CTIA's website devoted to helping smartphone owners avoid theft, beforeyouloseit.org.

Leno and Gascón released a joint statement this afternoon condemning the 19-17 vote and said they may try to bring another version of the bill before the Legislature at a later date.

"This technology exists, and until it is pre-enabled on every new phone purchased, consumers will continue to be the innocent victims of thieves who bank on the fact that these devices can be resold at a profit on the black market," Leno said.

"That's all this legislation does, it takes existing technology and makes it a standard feature on all smartphones," Gascón added. "With their no vote, 17 members of the Senate chose to protect billion dollar industry profits over the safety of the constituents they were elected to serve."

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