Phones sold in Minnesota will soon require a ‘kill switch,’ like California

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Minnesota has become the first U.S. state to sign a smartphone kill switch bill into law, beating out a similar proposal in California that recently passed in that state’s Senate. The law requires all smartphones sold in the state after July 1, 2015 to have an anti-theft kill switch function, which can be used to remotely disable the device. According to the legislation’s proponents, the law is meant to serve as a deterrent for phone thieves since the devices would be useless once the kill switch is engaged.

“This law will help combat the growing number of violent cell phone thefts in Minnesota,” said Gov. Mark Dayton in a press release. The legislators responsible for the bill said that they worked with students from the University of Minnesota in finalizing the legislation. The university’s campus police earlier testified that 62 percent of robberies in the school are phone-related.

“We have seen a number of students on the University of Minnesota’s campus targeted and attacked because their cell phone or iPod is quick and easy money for the assailant,” said Sen. Kari Dziedzic.

The number of phone-related crimes are similarly high across the country. According to Consumer Reports, 3.1 million people in the U.S. had their phones stolen in 2013. This represents a 93.75 percent increase in cell phone thefts from the year before. In 2012, there were only 1.6 million phone-related crimes across the country. 

Critics say the new law may have negative effects such as driving up the prices for carriers and insurance companies. However, a recent study from Creighton University said that kill switches could save consumers $2.5 billion a year. That may make it less painful if companies pass on the cost to consumers. 

Aside from imposing additional requirements on carriers, the new law also introduced stricter rules for sellers of used phones. The law makes it illegal for retailers to use cash to pay for second-hand phones. They now have to pay using a mailed check, electronic transfer, or store credit so there’s a paper trail. There are also stricter guidelines for documenting every device that dealers purchase. They now have to keep information such as the phone’s make and model, the seller’s driver’s license number and a copy of the check used to purchase the device. The law also makes it illegal to buy phones from minors. 

Some phones already have apps that mimic kill switch capabilities. “Find My iPhone” can be used to wipe off all user data remotely. However, there are workarounds that circumvent these security features. For instance, the app won’t work if a thief puts the device on airplane mode.

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