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UPDATE: California Law Makers Push Smart-Phone Kill-Switch

James Mulvey

Editor’s Note: The original article (posted below the line) was published on December 20, 2013. An update on the subject matter was sorely needed….

Let’s take a break today from all the talk of interconnecting, colocation, and data centers to update all of you on something that you’re probably holding right now: your phone. 

Actually, this update is better for you if you’re not holding your phone…because it’s been stolen. 

What Smartphone Kill Switches Will Do For You

The original article (below the line down there) mentioned the state of California’s intentions to require a kill switch on all smart phones by 2014. On August 25th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill making California and Minnesota the only states to require such a thing. 

Well, now the FCC is getting involved and they are serious (as always). They want all wireless carriers to implement kill switches on all smart phones by the end of Q1 2015. This is on the heels of a report which looked into smart phone theft in the United States. 

Perhaps surprisingly, smart phones accounted for nearly ten percent of all robberies in the United States in 2013, with around one million being stolen each year. 

Kill switches are designed to remotely lock and erase user-critical data which helps deter the reselling of the phone. 

The FCC also wants carriers to list all stolen devices they’re aware of in a national database for law-enforcement purposes. 

The good news is that police in cities such as New York and San Francisco have reported that smartphone theft has declined thanks for kill switches. 

This all leads back to a wider conception of data security which has the nation captivated and doing everything it can to prevent it. 

For smart phones, the kill switch may not get you your physical device back, but it will protect your data from getting stolen, which is the peace of mind in a terrible situation. 


California State Senator, Mark Leno, is pushing for smart-phone kill switch to take effect in 2014. Details over how black-list software will deter theft is unclear.  

Earlier this year, we debated whether or not a smart-phone kill switch would prevent theft , but given this year’s alarmingly high-rate of smart-phone theft, looks as though California law makers will be moving forward with the smart-phone kill switch bill come January.

State Senator working with District Attorney

Mark Leno – state senator for California publicly announced this week he is working with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to re-adjust the smart-phone kill switch plan.

Incidentally, San Francisco happens to have one of the highest rates of smart-phone related thefts in the country – so how could moving forward with such a bill be a bad thing?

Who are Apple Thieves?

City officials have dubbed those who steal Apple iPhone’s, “Apple-pickers”. These so-called “apple-pickers” can steal an iPhone with ease only to flip it for two-hundred dollars, or so. Talk about annoying! By now I gather we’re all in agreement that getting your iPhone (if you have one) stolen is clearly not a good thing, if not a major annoyance, so let’s focus on the details, shall we.

What are the goals of Smart-Phone Kill-Switch?

The overall goal of the smart-phone kill-switch bill needs to be redefined, and whatever the outcome – it must persist to devalue stolen smart-phones on the street. Violent street crime is an epidemic in the US –smart-phone thefts account for a high percentage, which is why Senator Leno still believes manufacturers like Samsung and Apple should include black-list software on their phones.

This so-called black list software would theoretically “block” or “black-list” stolen smart-phones preventing re-activation. There has been criticism from national carriers who believe deactivation software could be hacked – creating a problem for un-suspecting “legal” customers. Even still, lawmakers say the smart-phone kill switch needs to de-value stolen smart-phones enough to discourage theft in the first place.

Is Smart-phone Kill-Switch the Answer?

Legislation is under way and expected to commence after the holiday. At the moment, no definitive plan has been established. Hackable black-listing software sounds like nightmare but may help to protect the welfare of smart-phone users in this country. The best thing law makers can hope for is for phone carriers and smart-phone manufacturers to come together to establish a bill that’s right for everyone. What are your thoughts? Should Legislation, both at the state and local level – require smart-phone black-list software?

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