California wants to mandate ‘kill switch’ for mobiles and tablets

Politicians in the US state of California are proposing a bill to oblige manufacturers of mobile phones and tablets to include a kill switch in the hardware or software. This should prevent theft of mobile devices.

The kill switch bill does not prescribe a specific method. Manufacturers could therefore decide for themselves whether they implement such anti-theft protection hardware or software in a smartphone or tablet. However, if the kill switch is activated, the device must make phone calls impossible, as well as internet access and running apps. In addition, the system must be able to withstand hard resets and downgrade of the firmware. Furthermore, the user should be given the option to disable the kill switch functionality, but merchants are not allowed to disable it for a fee.

The obligation to install a kill switch should come into effect on January 1, 2015, NetworkWorld reports. Manufacturers who fail to include anti-theft protection in their phones or tablets face a fine of between $500 and $2,500 per device sold. The fines do not apply to sellers of used hardware.

The drafters of the bill believe that a kill switch has a preventive effect against theft. For example, almost half of the street robberies in San Francisco have a cellphone or tablet stolen. If the legislation is passed, it is likely that it will eventually become US-wide unless manufacturers decide to market modified products for California.