Lawmakers all over America have been pushing for the antitheft benefits of a smartphone “kill switch,” but California became the first state to require it by default on Monday.
Governor Jerry Brown signed what’s been colloquially known as the “kill switch” bill after it passed in the state legislature this August. Introduced in February by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the bill makes it mandatory for all smartphones to come with a default way to lock down the phone if it is stolen, making it unusable.
Minnesota was the first state to sign a “kill switch” bill into law this May, but the difference is that earlier bill made the kill switch an opt-in option, not a default setting. Leno stressed that the California version of the bill, if passed, would need to be more stringent.
“Opt-in does not end the problem. Because it will not be ubiquitous,” he told the Senate in April.
Policymakers and consumers alike have clamored for the “kill switch” standard, claiming that if stolen smartphones are instantly bricked, the incentive to steal them will plummet significantly.
William Duckworth, an associate professor of data science and analytics at Creighton University, found that a kill switch could save American consumers millions, if not billions of dollars. Not only do consumers spend $580 million yearly replacing their stolen phones, but if theft was no longer an issue, they could buy cheaper insurance plans.
CTIA, the largest U.S. trade organization that supports the cellular operators, made their own “kill switch” proposal in April. However, the proposal has been criticized for doing far more to cover the industry’s bases than to help people.
Overall, the general consensus is that kill switches will only act as a deterrent if they’re turned on by default; otherwise there’s no guarantee consumers will remember to turn them on. Now California, with its pioneering default kill switch, will put that theory to the test.
Photo of State Sen. Mark Leno by Kelly Huston