Leno to offer bill requiring cell ‘kill switches’

A Bay Area lawmaker will offer a bill requiring cell-phone manufacturers to include a “kill switch” that can remotely render a phone inoperable after it has been stolen.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is working on the legislation with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who has been crusading for kill switches for a while in order to combat a plague of cell-phone robberies and thefts. Leno said Thursday he intends to introduce the bill at the start of the 2014 legislative session next month.

Mark Leno“One of the top catalysts for street crime in many California cities is smartphone theft, and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent,” he said in a news release. “We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cell phone thieves in their tracks. It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities.”

Cell phone service providers are resisting such requirements, saying kill switches both could present opportunities for hacking and would create a huge customer-service burden.

The Federal Communications Commission reports cell phone thefts account for 30 to 40 percent of all robberies nationwide; more than half of all robberies in San Francisco involve the theft of a mobile device, and cell phone thefts in Los Angeles are up almost 12 percent in the last year. These crimes cost U.S. consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, even though technology already exists that can render stolen devices useless.

“I appreciate the efforts that many of the manufacturers are making, but the deadline we agreed upon is rapidly approaching and most do not have a technological solution in place,” Gascón said in Leno’s news release. “Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Howza bout callin da provider an tellin em dat da phone been stolen? I knows it works, I done it 2 times!
    Kill da bill!