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Senate Introduces Federal Smartphone “Kill Switch” Legislation

Submitted by on February 16, 2014 – 9:48 am3 Comments

The US Senate is now considering legislation that would force smartphone manufacturers and carriers to include a “kill switch” in devices which could remotely lock the phone and delete personal data in the event of a theft. The legislation is similar to a bill proposed in California last week. It is opposed by cellular industry groups who say it would introduce a new avenue for hackers.

“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,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement. “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.”

According to the FCC, one-third of thefts in the US involve smartphones. That number is possibly as high as half in cities like New York and San Francisco. (In 2012, the theft of Apple products was one of the only crime rates that rose in New York- and rose sharply.)

But industry group CTIA says that it would be too easy to abuse the kill switch. Since it would by definition be activated remotely, they argue, hackers would inevitably figure out how to trigger the switch, and would either shut down the phone maliciously or hold users ransom. The group instead endorses legislation introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which criminalizes tampering with a smartphone, and creates a nationwide database of stolen devices.

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