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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Mandatory kill switch technology bill enters California State Senate

Californians may be seeing some extra security on their phones if San Francisco District Attorney (DA) George Gascón’s bill passes. Cell phone theft has risen to become a global pandemic and Senate Bill (SB) 962 intends to address that.

Due to rising smartphone thefts, a mandatory kill switch may be put on every device by 2015.

“SB 962 will require any smartphone or tablet in California to include a technological solution that renders the essential features of the phone inoperable when stolen,” said Max Szabo, legislative affairs and policy manager at the office of DA Gascón.

Those behind the bill hope that the ability to turn stolen smartphones into bricks may deter thieves from stealing them in the first place. The idea is to get rid of the incentive (the resellability) to greatly reduce theft, therefore saving people from being victimized.

The specific technology behind the kill switch would be up to the companies. By not having one universal kill switch technology, there is hope that it will be even more difficult for people to infiltrate.

A current roadblock for this bill is the mobile carriers. As it turns out, they have a lot to lose if it passes.

“We’ve seen estimates as high at $7.8 billion that the big four carriers are making every year through the sale of smartphone insurance … I tend to not believe that corporations are inherently evil, but I do believe that that they seem to lack motivation in this case,” Szabo said.

According to Szabo, consumer reports estimated 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen in 2012. Despite the amount of victims, the carriers are still hesitant to give in to a bill that would take away a huge chunk of their profit.

Back in September, when Apple released iOS 7, they included the software for Activation Lock. It is a part of the Find My iPhone technology which allows you to secure your device remotely and keep anyone from erasing or reactivating it without your Apple ID and password. It can used for iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches and can be turned on by going to iCloud.

This is very similar to what a kill switch might look like. However, Apple’s Activation Lock is not on every Apple device nor is it on every smartphone. With the probability that only a few devices have this technology, people may still try to steal.

Why is this necessary if a similar app already exists? According to Martyn Williams, a senior correspondent with IDG News Service, if a sophisticated criminal gets hold of your current phone, they can wipe it themselves and reinstall the operating system. In doing this, they will remove the ability to render your device useless.

The bill would put this technology on a deeper level than software, on the firmware level, so it can’t be undone in the same way as the app.

“If all phones have it, the idea is that the incidence of theft should go down because criminals will know that while they steal the phone it will probably be switched off, and in that case it is less than useless,” Williams said.

Another reason is that it would be switched on by default on every phone. Many existing devices have similar technology, but it is off by default and you have to request your carrier to have it turned on. Not many people know that this technology exists so they don’t use it. With this bill it will be the consumer’s choice whether they wish to turn off the ability to use the kill switch, but it is important that they have the choice.

By having the kill switch on by default, thieves will be less likely to steal phones that can receive the kill signal. They won’t be able to resell these phones on the black market so the bill makers hope they will simply stop stealing phones.

However, there are some fears that this technology will be misused.

“A lot of people are very upset about the idea that the government will be able to switch off [their] phone. The bill wouldn’t allow the U.S. government to switch off people’s cell phones,” Williams said.

Though some are uncomfortable, the choice of whether to use this technology or not may give the bill some support even from the wary.

Even if the bill passes, some Aggies don’t think it will change anything.

“I don’t think this will make a difference. Once they steal the phone, they could put something in the phone to make it resistant to [the kill signal],” said Sartaj Sangha, a second-year biomedical engineering major.

However, the bill makers think they will see a drastic fall in smartphone theft and also see this trend extending across the country and even worldwide.

“A strong possibility with this bill is that cell phone companies are not going to want to do one phone for California and one phone for every other state, so if the California bill actually gets through it could bring this technology into phones that are sold across the United States,” Williams said.

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