In an effort to fight smartphone theft, California state legislators yesterday passed a bill that makes it mandatory for smartphone manufacturers to install a "kill-switch" in their phones to render them inoperable if lost or stolen. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, the bill passed with a 27 to 8 vote.
“Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California’s biggest cities,” said Leno. The legislation passed the State Assembly last week.
Smartphone theft accounts for over 50% of all crimes in many of the state's large cities like San Francisco and Oakland. Several other states including New York and Illinois are also considering similar measures to stem what government officials have called an "epidemic". According to security firm Lookout, one in ten smartphone owners in the US has had a phone stolen.
The bill, which is now headed to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature before becoming law, requires all smartphones manufactured and sold in California after July 2015 to come pre-installed with anti-theft tech.
After being introduced at a press conference in February, the bill failed its first vote in the state Senate in April, amid opposition from the wireless communications industry. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also opposed the bill arguing that the option could be exploited as the bill doesn't make it clear who would be authorized to turn off a phone. However, the bill passed the Senate two weeks later in early May.
The bill incorporated some changes before it won final approval from the Senate yesterday; its enforcement date was pushed to July from January 2015, tablet computers were exempted from its requirements, and more.
"I commend the Legislature for standing up to the wireless industry and voting to protect the safety of their constituents," said Gascón.