National smartphone kill switch bill finds itself on the table

Would require all phones to have a remote kill switch built in

Four Democratic Senators this week have proposed a bill to require all smartphones in the US to feature a kill switch that would allow for remote deactivation.

The feature is intended to deter thieves, though opponents to the bill worry that it would in reality enable them to have more leverages over victims.

The bill would require any device with a cellular connection to come with a remote kill switch feature built in.

It would also require all smartphones to come with a feature that would let users wipe them of all data remotely in the event they are stolen.

Reservations

But critics like industry trade group CTIA fear criminals might gain access to such measures illegally and then hold users' phones for ransom.

When Samsung proposed a similar kill switch on its own devices in November 2013, the CTIA suggested the measure might be used to coerce US officials in dangerous positions, like in the defense department or law enforcement.

US carriers rejected Samsung's proposal back in 2013.

The CTIA, meanwhile, is still focused on the stolen phone database that the FCC helped build in 2012.

A difference of methods

"While Senator [Amy] Klobuchar and CTIA are of like mind when it comes to wanting to prevent the theft of wireless devices, we clearly disagree on how to accomplish that goal," CTIA Vice President of Government Affairs Jot Carpenter said in a statement. Klobuchar is one of the bill's sponsors.

"Rather than impose technology mandates, a better approach would be to enact Senator [Charles] Schumer's legislation to criminalize tampering with mobile device identifiers," the statement continued.

"This would build on the industry's efforts to create the stolen device databases, give law enforcement another tool to combat criminal behavior, and leave carriers, manufacturers, and software developers free to create new, innovative loss and theft prevention tools for consumers who want them."

The Senate proposal, targeting only devices with a cellular connection, is much more specific than a similar but broader bill tabled in California earlier this month.

Apple's iOS devices feature some remote anti-theft measures, but nothing as drastic as a full-on kill switch.

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Via Recode