California, U.S. Proposes Mandatory Anti-Theft ‘Kill Switch’ for Smartphones

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 20, 2013 1:09 PM EST

The state legislature of California in the U.S. is set to push in January 2014 a bill that would require smartphone manufacturers to input a mandatory "kill switch" technology that would render stolen phones inoperable.

Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat representing San Francisco and neighboring towns, will introduce the bill, along with George Gascón, the district attorney for San Francisco. If approved, the bill would become the first of its kind in the U.S. and will surely open channels for same types in other states across the country.

A man is silhouetted against a video screen with Apple and Samsung logos as he poses with a Samsung Galaxy S4 in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this August 14, 2013, file photo. A U.S. jury on November 21, 2013, awarded Apple Inc AAPL.O $290.45 million in a damages retrial against Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 005930.KS, the latest battle in global patent litigation between the two mobile giants. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Files

If successful, the anti-theft technology could also be replicated in other parts of the world, especially in countries where smartphone usage is at its most highest. At present, the technology is already implemented in the United Kingdom and Australia.

"One of the top catalysts for street crime in many California cities is smart phone theft, and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent," Senator Leno as quoted by the AAP.

"We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cellphone thieves in their tracks. It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities."

As early as May 2013, law enforcement agencies in the U.S., particularly from the San Francisco Police Department, said that Apple picking, otherwise known as smartphone theft, has become so rampant.

In Apple picking, the thieves wipe the devices' memories clean and then resell them on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars.

Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, proposed earlier this year installing a kill switch in its devices. But the idea was flatly rejected by the U.S.' biggest carriers.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile maintained the 'kill switch' idea would just allow hackers to disable people's phones, even at random.

Mr Gascón, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, gave Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google until June 2014 to come up solutions that would curb smartphone theft as well as prevent stolen units from being sold on the black market.

"I appreciate the efforts that many of the manufacturers are making, but the deadline we agreed upon is rapidly approaching and most do not have a technological solution in place," Mr Gascón said. "Californians continue to be victimised at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority."

Observers believed smartphone manufacturers are dilly-dallying on the matter because of the added cost of producing handsets with the 'kill switch' technology that are only meant for the California market.

Still, smartphone manufacturers could make the technology a standard feature on phones sold even outside of the U.S.

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