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Smartphone “Kill Switch” Proposed By New Federal Law

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).

kill switch

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.

via gsmarena

  • Adam Forcount

    Yet another “solution” from politicians that does nothing to reduce or eliminate smartphone thefts,but instead enables the government and hackers to interrupt American’s wireless communications at their whim.

  • Kimber TLE

    ① I’m thinking these politicians have never heard of “pwn2own” let alone understand what the competition is about.

    ② I seriously doubt these politicians know what the term “jailbreak your phone” means.

    ③ I’m betting these politicians believe the chips for our phones are all made in the USA and the code is “secret and secure.”

    ④ And the politicians have never fully understood what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

    Any bets on how long it takes before people start getting ransom messages on their phones demanding payment to use their own phones? There’s an App for that – coming to a cell phone near you!

  • Gene Rick Maze

    Great! And the first group to hack and use this new “Kill-Switch” will of course be the NSA (i.e., the US Government). This is assinine.

  • Brent

    What a bunch of idiots. First, that’s impossible to do from the device perspective without introducing major weaknesses. Second, It will be circumvented faster than it comes to market. Third, how about using the phone to track the damn thief and arrest them? Fourth, why not impose a centralized blacklist for stolen devices on the carriers networks and prevent those stolen devices from registering? After all, you still want to allow certain types of signal- like a 911 call right? Ohhhhh wait…. thats how THEY ALREADY DO IT!

  • Sam Whittemore

    Dear FEDs,
    Please leave us alone. We don’t want anymore new laws as we have more than we can practically use now. Your legal burden is crushing FREEDOM in the USA and crushing business opportunity and prosperity. Use the kill switch next time you want to create a new law!

  • grassroot

    Hey, you know what? This would be a perfect situation for the “gummint”
    to grab control of your phone and shut down those who are speaking
    against them. But, I suppose they had already thought of that.

  • Jakob Stagg

    Politician and solution are mutually exclusive. What makes more sense is to implant a device in politicians that terminates their existence upon uttering a lie. Life would be so much easier in an honest world.

  • getreal5

    Democrat retards.Always with laws and the need to control.
    Just have the service provider DISCONNECT the phone!

  • VECox

    I have worked in the retail cell phone business….
    There is a system to block registration of stolen phones.
    The ESN – Electronic Serial Number unique to each phone can be blocked, effectively bricking the phone. The providers have made the process difficult,
    Police reports have to be sent to the carrier and “processed” to block re-registration and use of the phone.
    Once properly listed, the phone esn can not be registered for use by a carrier.

  • Prestaeus

    This has the potential to be abused… I’m thinking at a protest, even if you are in the laughable free-speech zones. Simple enough, citizen, come to a protest and we will make you pay. Why do they get away with this stuff?

  • denver41

    if you believe they care about thefts youre stupid! its a kill switch so they can turn off our phones in the event of trouble!! ill never have a smart phone PERIOD F U NSA

  • $91497020

    No, no, no…it’s not the government’s place to dictate features for our products, FFS. We’ll buy phones with kill switches if we want, and we won’t if we don’t want. iPhone makers will make phones with them if they want, and won’t if they don’t want. How hard is that to understand?

    Is liberty really that dead now? Seriously? This is freedom in 21st century America? Let me guess…we’ll just stand by and watch them do it…and do nothing about it…like usual.

  • Celia78

    And when big brother wants to end “freedom of the press” and “freedom to communicate” … they will simply pull the plug on cell phones in the possession of anyone who opposes them.

  • Newticle

    You’re all being way too paranoid about the government and way not paranoid enough about corporate greed. The most obvious and least desirable scenario is cellphone carriers having the ability to melt your phone 30 days after nonpayment of your bill.

    ANY bill. Or worse, other entities getting the legal right. If it passes, we will, of course, have mission creep where the law is too broad and other, more expensive devices also will have to be manufactured with the exploit. Late on your car payment? Your *child support* payment? We melt your $1500 google glass with your work information on it!

    …quit whining about it on the internet, go figure out who your senator is, and tell them to vote no.

  • Celia78

    Obama the Pinocchio president would already be dead if they did what you suggest. Doubtful he would have made it through the week of his first term.

  • Celia78

    Sounds like old phones that are not enabled to be disabled will be selling at a premium.

  • gosurf

    Newticle big business will just turn off your phone if you don’t pay. What gives the right to the government to do it. O yah this bill, common dude did you get anything out of your education
    Call our reps really. Do you think they care. I know change it with your vote really.

  • Jettzen Eddie

    Adam has it right!

  • Seth Hahn

    NO. No no no no NO. I am NOT giving the government the ability to disable my communications. NO NO NO NO NO.

  • Whane The Whip

    The feds want a kill switch on my phone…. for my benefit. Uh huh. Sen. Amy Klobuchar can go fuck herself with a douche nozzle.

  • SlabSquathrust

    I really doubt any corporate entity would expose itself to litigation by engaging in the willful destruction of private property. Much more plausible is hacking by a malicious entity, or government suppression. While the latter may not be likely in the US, in some of the most recent cases of civil unrest in other parts of the globe, deactivation of the internet and cell networks has been used as a means of suppressing dissent. Because the US is a major market, many companies may choose to sell with a kill switch in more volatile markets, so they do not require two production processes to make one product for the US and another for selling elsewhere. By mandating the creation of such phones, the US would essentially be providing a an easier means for the suppression of civil rights in other nations.

    Secondly, this seems like an awesome hardware feature for the creation of ransomeware. Even if an attacker did not have access to the users account, they could threaten a user to activate the kill switch if they did not pay up. The user then has the choice of hoping the attacker was bluffing, or potentially have their device destroyed if they fail to pay the ransom.

    In the end, I agree with you. We need to urge a no vote on this terrible idea.

  • dinkster

    Cellphone carriers have no incentive to melt phones. Alienating future customers sounds like bad business. People are already fleeing the contract houses for pay-as-you-go services with unsubsidized phones. This isn’t even considering the lawsuits they would get hammered with over property destruction.

  • dinkster

    “California State Sen.”

    There is the first problem. Land of the unintended consequences.

    But I digress, it would be far more intelligent to track the phones by IMEI numbers (which some carriers already do). California loves registries, registering IMEI’s should be easy for them.

  • TiredofrightRWNJs

    Actually the carries ARE ALREADY doing this. The scam they are worried about involves people buying phones, then selling them.. then claiming them as lost or stolen through the insurance plan. To protect themselves the providers have implemented blacklists for ESN and IMEI numbers so they can brick the phone that was ‘lost’ or stolen. Only the original owner can get the block removed so the poor sucker that bought the phone say via e-bay or craigslist is out of luck. The carriers claim this feature is so the customer can declare his phone stolen to make theft ‘unattractive’ but professional thieves already have workarounds. This blacklist does hurt the legitimate secondary market here in the US. Fewer people will be willing to buy used phones, even legitimate ones, when the possibility that the phone could be bricked at any time exists.

  • dinkster

    IMEI blocking and ‘melting’ the phone as described by the OP are not one in the same. Blocking the IMEI just makes network service impossible.

  • Jo Se

    More government control of us. The killswitch that needs to be used is the one at the voting booth that gets rid of these thug politicians.

  • Jo Se

    And police whenever there are protesters.

  • Jo Se

    Why don’t these thugs take care of real problems such as police abuses like the one that killed the disabled young man Kelly Lewis and was videotaped along with the police beatings and then attacks on protestors?

  • curly4

    The kill switch sounds like a good deal but there is something else that is just as important. That is phones being locked to a single carrier. Now if a carrier subsidized the purchase of the phone I can see and understand that phone would locked to that carrier. But when the contract is fulfilled or if the phone is bought for cash or if the phone is bought through a vender and then brought to the carrier those phones should be unlocked.

  • curly4

    You think now that they cannot block your phone now. Think again. Each phone has a IMEI identification number which the carrier has attached to your phone number, All the Feds have to do is have the networks (all) no longer recognize that IMEI number and your phone is dead.

  • metheguest

    what about technology that would prevent texting and calling on a mobile device while the vehicle is moving….think of the lives that would save!

  • Emma Sweet

    I am eagerly awaiting the day that the older generation of politicians die off and a new set of up-to-date ones are in place. If you make yourself vulnerable to theft, then you deserve to have your phone stolen. There are apps out there that remotely let you monitor the activity on your phone, turn on front camera, locate through gps, and even wipe the storage. Why on earth do we need a law to make this happen? Today’s generation is too busy with their eyes glued to their phone’s screen. I bet you a majority of today’s society Google’s something that is entirely common sense.

  • Nolemiwi Witawemat

    As long as I can remotely wipe my personal data from my phone if it’s stolen, I couldn’t care less about what happens to the actual device. I can always get another phone, but it’s hard to recover from having personal information stolen and shared with the outside world.

    This “kill switch” is just asking for trouble. No one should have the right to alter my personal property except me. But consider the following scenario if this bill becomes law: if I buy my phone from my provider at a subsidy (i.e. when I renew my contract), does that entitle my provider to partial right to control my phone since I didn’t pay for it 100% outright? This could open the door to some nasty grey areas.

    Conversely, if this kill switch is implemented and my phone is stolen, let’s say I ask to have the kill switch activated but my provider or law enforcement refuses. Do they become liable for my stolen information? Likely not, as a provision to protect big business will certainly be written into the law.

    Just legislators trying to over-legislate us to death.

  • Winston Blake

    Call your reps?

    They killed your phone!

  • Conlos Terroristas

    What if you are only a passenger? How about when you are driving home, talking your brother out of suicide? -true story
    Please stop requesting that society enact laws to restrict our freedoms.

  • TiredofrightRWNJs

    I was replying to the guy that said they could block IMEI and ESN numbers but weren’t. His information is out of date. I wasn’t saying they already are bricking phones, although since the blacklist is nationwide it’s effectively the same thing for any law abiding person who gets stuck with a blocked IMEI phone.

  • metheguest

    stop and make the call, yes extreme but it would prevent a lot of accidents

  • Newticle

    They’re only exposed to litigation if there’s not legislation explicitly allowing it, which one could reasonably expect to follow in short order given the current state of consumers’ rights in the USA.

    Yeah, it’d be terrible PR – but there are innumerable instances where companies get by with really horrid business practice simply because all of them are doing it, so you have no options. The feds mandating a kill switch would mean they all have the ability to do it – all that would be lacking is the will and the legal right, and those could follow in short order.

    It’s a more plausible worst-case scenario than “Big Brother shuts your phone down because they don’t like your sexting,” I think. Point is – I don’t really want my phone to have this possible security hole, and nobody else does either, that should be the end of it.

  • jimmyt

    Thank god for analog

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