Kill Switch Legislation Aims to Wipe Out Smartphone Theft
There is a saying, “As California goes, so goes the country.” This seems to be the case with smartphone kill switch legislation. Just a week after a bill was proposed in the California State Senate, federal lawmakers have introduced their own version.
The federal bill, known as the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, is co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
This bill, if passed, would require cell phone manufacturers to include a “kill switch” on all smartphones, which would allow consumers to remotely wipe their phones of all personal data and render the phone useless to thieves.
“Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private, protect their identity and finances, and render the phone inoperable to the thieves.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 1-in-3 robberies involve cell phone theft. Criminals target smartphones due to their high resale value and for the valuable personal, and often financial, information they contain.
Mobile carriers have rejected plans for a kill switch. The Wireless Association (CTIA), a trade group for the wireless industry, has stated that a kill switch option carries various risks. Their main concern is that hackers can replicate the kill switch mechanism (which would normally be delivered in the form of a special text message) to shut down multiple devices. In theory, a malicious hacker could use this kill switch in a denial-of-service attack to disable emergency services, law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense customers.
Aside from security concerns, there is also speculation that mobile carriers are resisting the call for a kill switch because it would eliminate their billion-dollar revenue stream from selling theft insurance to consumers.
Privacy advocates are also concerned about the implications. The main issue is the revolving door of a kill switch. By placing a hard-to-disable kill switch, one that cannot be disabled by traditional methods (i.e., turning it off, switching it into airplane mode), in the phones the phone is “always on” which in theory makes it always traceable.
Either way, the momentum for anti-theft measures when it comes to protecting our digital information seems to be gaining steam.
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