California Makes Smartphone Killswitch Mandatory


Californian politicians have passed a law mandating a “killswitch” in all smartphones, allowing users to remotely disable the phone if it’s lost or stolen. It’s the first such law to require such a feature to be enabled by default.

Bill 962 says all phones that are manufactured after 1 July 2015 and then sold in California must have the killswitch. Exactly how it operates is up to manufacturers, but the key requirements are that the owner must be able to remotely disable the phone; a disabled phone must remain unusable even after a hard reset; and that only the original owner can reactivate the phone on a wireless network.

The bill has exemptions meaning that the original owner loses the right to disable the phone after selling it to a new owner, or surrendering it as collateral on a loan.

Apple, Google and Microsoft have already promised to build a killswitch into their operating systems from next year, while Minnesota became the first state to mandate killswitches in May.

However, the California law goes a step further as, unlike Minnesota’s, it says phones must ship with the killswitch already enabled, with owners then having the option of disabling it. Given California is home to around an eighth of the US population, manufacturers may well decide it’s now simplest to build and enable the killswitch into all handsets shipped to the US.

The politicians behind the new law argue that it will make stolen phones less valuable, in turn deterring thefts. Several police authorities in major cities have cited statistics showing that smartphones are the target of a significant proportion of thefts in public places, particularly those involving violence or the threat of violence.

However, critics of the killswitch — including many GaS readers who’ve commented on previous stories — raise concerns that there’s a risk of public officials finding a way to force manufacturers to trigger killswitches without the user’s request, for example to shut down communications among a group of protesters.


5 Responses to California Makes Smartphone Killswitch Mandatory

  1. Risk of authorities doing that? ROFLMAO.. THEY WILL DO THAT! There will absolutely be a back door built in that will be used by authorities to brick phones. They won’t do it to just protestors either, they will black out phones in a given area to prevent filming of LEOs abusing people.

    • Unless there’s been a change since the last time I read about the cell phone “kill switch”, it solely effects cellular signal. Phones would still be able to do everything else, including video and connecting to wifi. They can also still make calls to emergency services.

  2. The ability to remote kill a phone seems like a good idea on paper, but could be horrible in practise. It could be used to censor entire areas of a population in a very commonly used communication medium, it also opens up the vulnerability of the phones in a whole new way. Being able to remote kill an entire area of mobile phones could lead to reduced reporting of large scale serious crimes due to hacking; it just doesn’t seem worth creating another vulnerability in the already fragile security infrastructure of todays technology. But then what do I know, I am only a cat.

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