If you're reading this story on a smartphone in Bangor, Maine, Key West Florida, Spokane, Washington, or really any point in between, you wouldn't think that a bill making its way through the California state legislature would have much of an impact on your mobile device. But a new proposal for a mandatory kill-switch on mobile devices in California figures to have ramifications felt far beyond the borders of the Golden State should it come to pass.
The bill, introduced Friday by State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would require any mobile device sold in the state to come with a digital kill-switch that would render the device useless if it's ever nabbed by a thief. The idea behind the proposed law is to put a dent in smartphone theft, which has spiked upward in recent years.
Well, good for California, then. But what's it matter to you, if you happen to live in one of the 49 other states in this country?
Consider it an offshoot of The Golden Rule — as in Them That's Got the Gold Makes the Rules. By virtue of its size — and the hefty fine for phone makers that's included in Leno's proposed law — California has enough pull to make kill switches a standard feature on mobile devices.
The bill introduced by Leno proposes fines ranging from $500 to $2500 per device for retailers who sell a device without kill-switch technology. (Sales of second-hand phones are excluded, so don't worry about state troopers busting into your home should you ever try to unload that aging iPhone on eBay.) By not complying with such a law, device makers and retailers would either have to pay a fine for each phone and tablet they sold or decide that they no longer care to do business with the 38 million people who live in California. Neither option seems like it would be particularly palatable to a business interested in turning a profit.
Equally unpalatable would be producing a separate product available just for California consumers. So if California moves forward with a smartphone kill-switch mandate, devices complying with that requirement would likely be sold in the other 49 states, whether they pass similar laws or no.
So the big question: How likely is it that California's legislature moves ahead with this bill? The kill-switch proposal comes with formidable political backing. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who's been applying pressure on tech companies to adopt technology that reduces the risk of phone thefts, is joining Leno to introduce the bill. Mayors and police chiefs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland have also pledged their support.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.