California bill proposes mandatory kill-switch on phones and tablets

The bill comes in answer to rising smartphone and tablet theft across the U.S. and could usher in the technology on phones sold nationwide

San Francisco Distict Attorney George Gascón speaks to reporters in his office on July 19, 2013

San Francisco Distict Attorney George Gascón speaks to reporters in his office on July 19, 2013

Politicians and law enforcement officials in California will introduce a bill on Friday that requires all smartphones and tablet PCs sold in the state be equipped with a digital "kill-switch" that would make the devices useless if stolen.

The bill is a response to a rise in thefts of portable electronics devices, often at knife or gunpoint, being seen across the state. Already half of all robberies in San Francisco and 75 percent of those in Oakland involve a mobile device and the number is rising in Los Angeles, according to police figures.

The trend is the same in major cities across the U.S. and the California bill, if it passes, could usher in kill-switch technology nationwide if phone makers choose not to produce custom devices for California.

California Senate bill 962 says all smartphones and tablet PCs sold from Jan. 1, 2015, should have "a technological solution that can render the essential features of the device inoperable when the device is not in possession of the rightful owner."

The proposed bill, a copy of which was seen by IDG News Service, doesn't specify the kill-switch technology. Carriers or phone makers will be able to design their own system in software, hardware or a combination of both, but once activated it should prevent phone calls, Internet access and the ability to run apps.

It will have to be resistant to a hard reset, attempts to return the device to factory condition or a downgrade of the operating system. Users should have the option of deactivating it if they don't want the protection, but retailers will be banned from offering such a service.

The bill proposes retailers will be subject to a fine of between US$500 and $2,500 per device sold that doesn't include the technology. The fines won't target private sellers of second-hand phones.

It will be formally introduced in San Francisco on Friday morning by State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon with the backing of the mayors and police chiefs of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland.

Gascon and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have been leading a push by senior law enforcement figures to make smartphone makers address theft of their devices.

The work has targeted Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft and has already had some success.

Shortly after Gascon brought representatives of the four companies together, Apple introduced its iOS7 operating system with an activation lock feature. Samsung also responded to his call by installing the "Lojack for Mobile Devices" software on some of its phones, but it requires an annual subscription.

The bill is due to be heard in the California senate in the coming months.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentlegislationCriminalApplesamsungconsumer electronicsGoogleMicrosoftsecurityphysical securitymobile securitysmartphoneslegal

More about AppleGoogleIDGMicrosoftSamsung

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Martyn Williams

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts