The rise in the number of mobile device theft all across the United States has prompted several Senators to introduce a smartphone kill switch on the federal level. This past Thursday, a proposed law called the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act was introduced by Democratic Senators Barbara Mikulski (MD), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Mazie Hirono (HI).
According to Sen. Amy Klobuchar who is the founder of the bill , “Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims. This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private; protect their identity and finances; and render the phone inoperable to the thieves.”
Early this month we reported that California State Sen. Mark Leno proposed a new legislation (Senate Bill 962) that would require all smartphones sold in the state of California to have a kill switch by January 1, 2015. While this will only be implemented in California the new Smartphone Theft Prevention Act will require all smartphones sold in the United States to have a kill switch.
The FCC recently reported that one-third of thefts in the United States involve smartphones. This figure rises to one-half in most major cities like New York. The reason why this is happening is that smartphones usually carry a high price in the black market (especially the flagship models) and it’s easy to wipe out the information stored in it and restore it in its factory condition.
The kill switch will make it harder for criminals to use a stolen smartphone since this feature will render a device useless even if it is restored.
The mobile phone industry however is concerned at the effect of the kill switch on mobile devices. While it does have its benefits there’s also the possibility that someone can hack into the system and disable a large number of smartphones at a time.
CTIA vice president Jon Carpenter said that “While Senator Klobuchar and CTIA are of like mind when it comes to wanting to prevent the theft of wireless devices, we clearly disagree on how to accomplish that goal. Rather than impose technology mandates, a better approach would be to enact Senator Schumer’s legislation to criminalize tampering with mobile device identifiers. This would build on the industry’s efforts to create the stolen device databases, give law enforcement another tool to combat criminal behavior, and leave carriers, manufacturers, and software developers free to create new, innovative loss and theft prevention tools for consumers who want them.”
Samsung developed a technology last year that functioned as a smartphone kill switch however most of the major US carriers rejected this feature. Apple has the Activation Lock feature integrated on its iOS 7 system which also acts like a kill switch.