California may require Smartphone ‘kill switch’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is on the verge of becoming the latest state to require shut-off functions in smartphones as a way to deter thefts.

SB962 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is supported by law enforcement and consumer groups as a response to a crime problem that has exploded nationwide. It passed the state Assembly on a 51-18 vote Thursday and will return to the Senate for a final vote on amendments.

Under the bill, smartphones must be sold with technology, a “kill switch,” that deactivates them if stolen. It does not apply to tablets or laptops.

“None of us should have our lives at risk because we walk down the streets with this device each and every one of us use all day long,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, holding up her iPhone on the Assembly floor.

The San Francisco district attorney’s office says more than half of all robberies in the city last year included the theft of a smartphone. Supporters of the bill also cite a Consumer Reports study that estimated 3.1 million mobile devices were stolen nationally in 2013, double a year earlier.

A report by state attorneys general, prosecutors, police and other officials, released in June, showed how deactivation devices are working to reduce smartphone thefts. After Apple added an optional “kill switch” feature to its iPhones last September, robberies of Apple products in New York City dropped 19 percent while grand larcenies dropped 29 percent in the first five months of 2014 compared with a year earlier.

In May, Minnesota became the first state to mandate the shut-off technology on all smartphones tablets sold in the state, effective next July.

Leno’s bill failed an initial vote in April after fierce opposition from wireless companies and manufacturers warning against varying state regulations for products sold internationally. Manufacturers including Apple, Samsung and Blackberry dropped their opposition after lawmakers agreed to amendments.

SB962, if signed by the governor, would apply to smartphones manufactured and sold after July 2015.

Some Republican lawmakers said the legislation overreached, pointing to voluntary steps taken by cellphone companies to adopt the technology and take other measures to discourage robberies.

“This is another example of California thinking that it knows better than our technology innovators and the customers they serve,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno.

CTIA — The Wireless Association, a trade group, remains opposed, saying deactivation rules should not vary by state.

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