New legislation unveiled in the state of California would require smartphones and other mobile devices to have a "kill switch" to render them inoperable if lost or stolen -- a move that could be the first of its kind in the country. The motivation behind the new law is that in San Francisco alone close to 60% of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile device, according to Police Chief Greg Suhr. In nearby Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan added that such thefts are closer to 75% of robberies.
A noted Federal Communications Commission study stated that almost one in three US robberies involve phone theft and that lost and stolen mobile devices, mostly smartphones, cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012.
State Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and other elected and law enforcement officials said the bill, if passed, would require mobile devices sold in or shipped to California to have the anti-theft devices starting next year.
Although Gascon praised Apple for its efforts with their new iOS 7 "Activation Lock" which is designed to prevent thieves from turning off the "Find My iPhone" application, he noted that it's still too early to tell how effective that will be.
Leno and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, both Democrats, co-authored the bill to be introduced this spring. They joined Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other authorities who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.
Gascon said the industry makes an estimated $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance on mobile devices but must take action to end the victimization of its customers.
Gascon further added that "This is one of the areas in the criminal justice system where a technological solution can make a tremendous difference, so there's absolutely no argument other than profit."
Yet the CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, disagrees with the bill by saying that a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies. The association has been working on a national stolen phone database that launched in November to remove any market for stolen smartphones.
Michael Altschul, CTIA's senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement that "These 3G and 4G/LTE databases, which blacklist stolen phones and prevent them from being reactivated, are part of the solution. Yet we need more international carriers and countries to participate to help remove the aftermarket abroad for these trafficked devices."
Yet at the end of the day, a solution has to be found or the industry's latest push into electronic wallets will fail to connect with consumers. With smartphone thefts accounting for 75% of theft reports in California, one can only imagine the amplification of that horror if an electronic wallet was a part of the smartphone's applications. This is where adding biometrics to smartphones could be of some assistance. Apple's new iPhone 5S Touch ID feature is the first in the industry tied to online commerce. Like-minded features will be coming to the Android camp later this year that will add an extra level of security.