California passes ‘kill switch’ law, requiring smartphones to have a self destruct option

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The Californian Senate has approved a revised version of the so-called kill switch bill, which requires all smartphones sold in the state to have anti-theft software installed. The controversial bill was rejected at the end of April, and was subsequently altered to make it more acceptable to manufacturers and networks. Apparently, key changes included a six month extension to the deadline for compliance, and tablets aren’t included in the rules.

There are four main components to the kill switch. The software must make it impossible to use the device after it has been lost or stolen, and it can’t be overcome by forcing a hard reset. Additionally, no-one but the owner will be able to reconnect it to a network. It covers any smartphone sold in California manufactured after July 1 next year, and retailers are being threatened with a $2,500 per-device fine if they sell smartphones without the kill switch installed. The system won’t be mandatory for customers though, and you’ll be able to deactivate it after purchase.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Apple and Microsoft played a large part in getting the bill to pass this time around. Senator Jim Beall told the newspaper both companies felt the new version was more flexible and “something they could work with.” It passed with a 26-8 vote, a considerable change over the 19-17 result last month. Mark Leno, the bill’s champion, called it a “big success,” and hopes other states will follow California’s lead.

Not everyone is so happy about the victory. The CTIA Wireless Association listed all the ways it’s already combatting phone thefts, including its unified stolen phone database, and said if kill-switch technology was passed only on a state-by-state basis, “uniformity would be threatened.” There are also concerns about the system being misused, such as in the case of domestic abuse, where the phone is locked by the abuser.

It’s expected that the bill will be altered again before it goes before the state Assembly.

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