We're a step closer to having kill-switch technology built into our smartphones by default, after the California State Senate approved a bill that would mandate the antitheft feature come preinstalled on phones sold in the Golden State.
Twenty-six state senators voted to back the legislation by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) — 21 votes were needed for approval. The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
Thursday's vote marks a reversal of fortune for Leno's kill-switch proposal, which failed to win enough votes for approval when it came before the Senate in April. But the bill underwent a few tweaks — companies now have until July 1, 2015 to comply with the requirement, which will apply only to smartphones, not tablets. Recently, Apple and Microsoft both dropped their opposition to the kill-switch bill, which may have addressed some lawmakers' concerns that the mandate was too much of a burden for businesses.
The CTIA, the lobbying arm of the wireless industry, remains very much opposed to the proposed California law, for an ever-shifting number of reasons. Last fall, it was because kill switches would be an attractive target for mischief-minded hackers. When Leno introduced his bill in February, the CTIA argued that a keeping a database of stolen phones was a more effective way to deter theft. On Thursday, the CTIA fretted about the vagaries of state-by-state mandates. (The CTIA also opposes a proposed federal law on kill switches.)
Last month, the CTIA proposed its own voluntary kill-switch program, after years of opposition. However, the CTIA's proposal would require users to activate the feature, which kill-switch advocates contend would do little to deter theft.
The proposed California bill requires any smartphone sold in the state to come enabled with a feature allowing owners to disable a lost or stolen phone. Anyone who sells a phone without a kill-switch feature would be subject to fines of $500 to $2500.
Should the California bill win Assembly approval and get signed into law by the governor, it could have implications far beyond that state's borders. Phone makers are unlikely to build special kill-switch-enabled phones solely for California consumers, just as they're unlikely to stop doing business in the most populated state in the U.S. Instead, that smartphone with a mandated kill switch that goes on sale in California is likely to be sold in the 49 other states, whether those state pass a law or not.
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