Congress Joins Smartphone Kill Switch Fight

Senators introduce bill for mandatory phone kill switch to prevent thefts.

The Apple iPhone 5C is displayed at an Apple Store on Sept. 20, 2013 in Palo Alto, California.

Existing smartphone anti-theft features include the Activation Lock available on the iPhone.


Violent cellphone thefts are increasing, so four Democratic senators introduced a bill to require wireless companies to install a “kill switch” feature allowing users to erase and shut down stolen devices, following up on a bill introduced by California state lawmakers.

The bill introduced Thursday, called the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, is sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. Existing anti-theft features include the Activation Lock available on the iPhone. Approximately one-third of robberies in the U.S. are cell phone thefts because criminals can get a good price for expensive mobile devices – and for the personal and financial data they contain, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

[READ: California Senate Bill Proposes Smartphone Kill Switch]

"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 news release. “This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals." 

This adds to the pressure on the wireless industry after California Democratic Sen. Mark Leno introduced a bill to prohibit companies from selling phones in that state unless they carry a pre-enabled kill switch to renders the device useless once it is reported stolen.

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The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade group has previously opposed a mandatory kill switch standard, and said hackers could hijack the kill switch to disable phones. California is the largest state economy in the U.S. and the home of Silicon Valley, so any regulation on devices passed there would likely force tech companies to invest in a kill switch nationwide.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón supports the California state bill and the new federal bill.

"Smartphones have infiltrated virtually every aspect of our daily lives, but there's nothing smart about devices that attract violent crime when the technology to end this epidemic is readily available," Gascón said in the news release.