Opt-Out, Not Opt-In: California Passes Tough Kill-Switch Law

Putting the wireless industry on the defensive, the Golden State has passed a law that will require the antitheft mechanism to be automatically enabled on new devices, starting next summer. Trade group CTIA cautions it could lead to inconsistencies in rules nationwide.

The most tech-friendly state in the nation just took a tough stand on a key wireless issue.

This week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating the inclusion of a so-called kill switch on mobile devices. That means new devices sold in the state starting next July must have a security feature allowing consumers to disable a stolen phone remotely. While it’s not the first such measure—Minnesota beat California to the punch by a few months—the crucial difference is that this legislation requires the technology to be turned on as the default setting.

“Seldom can a public safety crisis be addressed by a technological solution, but today wireless consumers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, a leading advocate for the law, said in a statement to CNET.

California’s kill-switch measure sets fines of $500 to $2,500 for retailers who knowingly sell smartphones that don’t have the feature turned on after the law goes into effect on July 1, 2015. It doesn’t apply to tablets and laptops.

Industry Pushback

California’s move is the latest development in the long fight over the issue, which the wireless industry has found itself losing in recent months. For example, an attempt by wireless service providers to bar Samsung from preloading a kill-switch app on its phones in late 2013 backfired by drawing attention to the issue. The drumbeat favoring the feature got even louder in June after law enforcement statistics showed that an Apple kill switch had helped decrease thefts of its devices in major cities.

CTIA: The Wireless Association, a trade group for mobile providers, offered a voluntary industry solution in the spring, but it drew mixed reviews because it required users to opt in.

The industry strongly opposed the California bill. In comments to The Wall Street Journal, CTIA expressed concern that the measure could become part of a state-by-state patchwork of kill-switch rules.

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation,” Jamie Hastings, CTIA’s vice president of external and state affairs, said in a statement to WSJ. “State-by-state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

CTIA wasn’t the only voice opposing the measure. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also objected, citing privacy and implementation concerns.

“There’s a simple reason why we opposed this particular bill—and why we almost always oppose bills with technological mandates,” EFF’s Adi Kamdar wrote on the organization’s blog, Deeplinks. “Technology is fast; the law is slow.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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