Smartphone Kill Switch: Democratic Senators Introduce Federal Smartphone Theft Protection Act

 @christopherzarac.zara@ibtimes.com
on February 17 2014 5:38 PM

Cellphone Four U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would require carriers to include “kill switches” in smartphones.  Reuters/Zoran Milch

Lawmakers are looking for ways to fight “Apple-picking,” but are they just going after low-hanging fruit?  

Four Democratic U.S. senators last week introduced a bill aimed at curbing mobile-device theft and helping consumers protect their data if their smartphones are stolen. The Smartphone Theft Protection Act would require all smartphones sold in the United States to require a “kill switch,” a technology that allows consumers to render their phones inoperable and prevent them from being reactivated in the event of a theft. The switch also allows owners to remotely wipe their personal data from their devices. Under the proposed bill, cellphone carriers would have to include the technology free of charge.

The legislation was introduced by senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, all Democrats. In a statement, the senators said cellphone theft puts users in danger and costs consumers more $30 billion each year. They believe the legislation would act as a deterrent as well as “empower victims.”

“Our cellphones play an essential role in our day to day lives -- from connecting us to family and friends to paying our credit card bills and accessing our bank accounts,” said Sen. Mikulski. “As essential as they are to us, they are prime targets for thieves.”

According to the statement, the bill has support from a coalition of advocacy groups, including the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, an effort being led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, a group of law-enforcement officials representing large urban areas, is also behind the legislation, as is the Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports.  

Mobile device theft is a particular problem in big cities where mass transit is common, even as other types of crime has plummeted over the last two decades. According to the Secure our Smartphones Initiative, 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco in 2012 involved a mobile device. According to the NYPD, “Apple-picking,” or crime involving iPhones and other Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) products, makes up 14 percent of all New York City crime.

The new bill is not the first to attempt to tackle the problem. Earlier this month, California state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced similar legislation, which would require a kill switch for all smartphone sold in California by 2015.

But such efforts are not without their critics. The CTIA, a wireless-industry trade group, has generally opposed technology mandates, instead preferring legislation that criminalizes tampering with the unique identification number of mobile devices. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has long been a proponent of such legislation, and May 2013 reintroduced a bill to make cellphone tampering a federal crime. “[W]e must make it clear that if you alter a cellphone identification number of a stolen phone, you will face serious consequences,” Schumer said at the time.

The four senators who introduced the Smartphone Theft Protection Act say it’s up to carriers to provide “technological solutions … that empower consumers.” Read the full release here.

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