Bill to mandate phone kill-switches dies, but industry rallies anyway

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Efforts to make mobile device kill switches mandatory in California have failed--for now. But mobile phone makers and mobile service providers have voluntarily agreed to add optional kill switch features to smartphones manufactured after July, 2015.

A bill that would have required so-called kill switches on all smartphones sold in California failed to get needed senate support in a vote on Thursday, according to an article at Network World. Senate Bill 962 needed 21 votes to move the bill to the state assembly.

The article notes that in an effort to help garner support for the bill, its sponsor, Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) accepted two key changes to the proposal: a six month delay on the start of the proposed law to July 1, 2015, and a narrowing of the bill to cover just smartphones and not tablets. The proposed changes weren't enough, however, and after 40 minutes of debate, the vote was 19 in favor and 17 opposed.

While this measure would have only mandated kill switches for devices sold in California, it was expected that if it passed the result would have much farther implications. As the article noted, manufacturers probably wouldn't design separate device models just for sale in California and would adopt kill switches for new devices in general.

Despite the failure of the bill in the California senate, that appears to be the result anyway, as manufacturers and cellular service carriers have agreed that kill switches are indeed a good idea.

The move comes in response to pressure from consumer groups and law enforcement officials, who have been concerned about the security threat posed by smartphone and mobile devices that are lost or stolen.

So-called kill switches enable a device to be disabled so that an unauthorized person can't access data on the device. According to an article at Wall Street and Tech, all smartphones manufactured after that date will now have a baseline anti-theft tool which is either preloaded on the device or can be downloaded by the user.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless communications trade group, said all mobile carriers will support the availability and use of this tool, the article noted. This is a voluntary agreement, the group said. Despite the California vote last week, mandatory kill switches have reportedly had strong public support.

The adoption of kill switches in mobile phones could save consumers $2.6 annually, according to new research from Creighton University Heider College of Business professor and consumer advocate William Duckworth. In a survey of 1,200 smartphone owners, Duckworth studied consumer sentiment for kill switches, consumer habits regarding cellphone insurance, and the links between the two. Duckworth's research findings were posted on the university website.

Mandatory mobile phone kill switches had recently been proposed in California. Duckworth said he expected strong support in other states as well.

According to his research findings:

  • 99 percent of smartphone owners believe wireless carriers should give all consumers the option to disable a mobile phone if stolen
  • 93 percent of smartphone owners believe Americans should not be expected to pay extra fees for the ability to disable a stolen phone
  • 83 percent of smartphone owners believe that a kill switch feature would reduce mobile phone theft

For more:
- see the Network World article
- check out the Wall Street and Tech article
- see the Senate Bill 962

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