Cali's Gov. Brown Signs 'First of Its Kind' Cellphone Kill Switch Bill



California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) yesterday signed into law a cellphone "kill switch" bill that The Week describes as "the first law of its kind in the country."

The bill requires that smartphones sold in the state beginning July 2015 be equipped with an anti-theft "kill switch" that can remotely render the device inoperable if stolen.

S.B. 962, which was introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and passed 28-8 earlier this month, is unique among state-level kill switch bills, because it "requires that the phones come with the kill switch feature set to enabled under the default settings. Consumers would have to change the setting to disable the feature if they don't want the protection," explains the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I think as any number of issues here in California, when we act it becomes the de facto way business is done across the country," says Leno, who believes that his bill will help end the "epidemic" of smartphone thefts. "About 3.1 million American consumers were victims of smart phone theft in 2013," according to Consumer Reports. That's a lot, but not that much in the grand scheme of things. There are an estimated 327,577,529 mobile phones (not even counting the other mobile devices) in use in the U.S., which is more phones than citizens.

The state stands to make some cash by passing the law. One provision declares that "the knowing retail sale of a smartphone in California in violation of [the law] may be subject to a civil penalty of not less than five hundred dollars ($500), nor more than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), per smartphone sold in California in violation."

Although it seems like a step forward now, legislation moves at a much slower pace than technology, so S.B. 962 regulations may be holding back future innovations by the time the ink dries. The cellphone industry isn't opposed to anti-theft tools; there exist plenty of them already.

"Today's action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken," a representative from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Associated (CTIA) said yesterday. When the bill was approved by the state senate, the CTIA issued a statement in opposition, noting some foreseeable downsides:

We urge the Governor to not sign this bill, since uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation. State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.

New York, Illinois, and Rhode Island are considering kill switch bills, and Minnesota passed one this year.


NEXT: Peter Suderman on How Oregon's Obamacare Website Debacle Turned Into a Legal Blame Game

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Can I have a kill law switch?

  2. No unintended consequences forseen.

    1. No unintended typos foreseen.

  3. I thought the law just applied to phones made in CA, not sold there. My palm and forehead can’t take much more of this.

  4. Still no mention about the potential for the state to abuse this function huh?

    1. Why, the state would never abuse power given to it, would they? Especially not a progressive paradise like California.

    2. The state is here to help you.

  5. The bill requires that smartphones sold in the state beginning July 2015 be equipped with an anti-theft “kill switch” that can remotely render the device inoperable if stolen.

    Question from the peanut gallery: Who will have access to trigger these kill switches? The owner of the phone? The phone manufacturer? The service provider? Law enforcement?

    1. All of the above. Your employer if you do BYOD.

      1. Well, yay.

      2. Plus hackers.

  6. I love that they claim it will deter theft when it won’t do anything of the kind. You’ll still get your phone stolen, except now if you do happen to get it back it’ll be as useful as a brick for making phone calls.

    1. I’m against these laws, which is why I’m sick of seeing these weak arguments against them.

      The idea is that if phones can be bricked remotely, they will become either valueless or less valuable on the secondhand marketplace.

      That is a sensible theory; the problem is that people will almost certainly find ways to circumvent the locks, meaning that the street value of a stolen phone will only be moderately reduced, not eliminated.

      Since part of the appeal of phones is that they’re easy to steal, the likelihood of a huge drop in thefts, if any, is small.

      1. This. Unless the kill switch does something physically and irreversibly destructive to the innards of the phone, all it takes is a techie or two to figure out how to neutralize the kill.

      2. You would think that if cell phone models were distinctive in appearance, and some models were known to have the kill switch feature, then buyers of cell phones could decide whether they wanted this anti-theft protection or not.

  7. Why wouldn’t a thief just immediately go into the phone’s settings and disable this? I sense a password mandate in the future.

    1. The state would never go for a password mandate. With a password mandate, it would make it a whole lot difficult for them to search peoples’ cell phones.

      1. Not if they had a legislated master password.

    2. The “gold standard” for phone locking mechanisms (which fortunately, this law does not specifically mandate, AFAIK) is a SIM lock, where a password is required in order to disable the lock to change the SIM.

  8. We should start placing bets on when (not whether) government will abuse the kill switch and how (again, not whether) progs will blame market failure.

    1. The NSA has already loaded the kill switch onto every phone in the world. This bill just requires manufacturers to pay a royalty to the NSA for the code and put up a fake screen that makes it look optional.

  9. None of the governments business!! Providing protection against theft is certainly a good idea, but it’s up to the industry to determine the specs and features of their products. Some cell phones already have the possibility to remotely block them. After all, this feature can be used as a marketing incentive.

  10. I am thinking of opening a cell-phone kiosk in State-Line, Nevada in about 10 months…

  11. When will we see a kill switch for stolen cars?

  12. Whatever method for the kill switch ends up being used, I look forward to it being cracked about 3 days after it’s released.

  13. A .22 sized charge of C4 in the phone? I think not.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.