In 2012 over half of thefts in San Francisco involved cell phone theft. In the same year over three quarters of thefts in Oakland were cell phone theft. Over the past decade we have seen the price of premium smartphones continue to rise and the presence of these premium phones to be more and more ubiquitous among the general population. Consequently, robbers and crooks are making the bet that they can rob almost anyone at anytime and the victim will not only have on their person a wallet or purse with cash and cards, but also a cell phone worth over half of a thousand dollars.
Today people seldom carry large amounts of cash with them, and credit cards have so many security features that actually generating a return off of stolen cards has become a challenge; but with cell phones, often times there is nothing stopping someone from reprogramming a stolen cell phone and reselling it. This is precisely the issue that California State Senator Mark Leno hopes to solve with his new bill. His argument is that because it is so easy to resell phones today since they maintain their value even if they are stolen, it encourages robbers to target victims for the purpose of stealing their phones. To solve this issue, Leno suggests that all cell phone manufacturers should be required to include a kill switch feature which allow the owner to erase all data from the phone and make it inoperable.
Mr. Leno's bill has passed the state senate and only awaits the approval of California's Governor Jerry Brown. California would be the second state to sign such a bill into law if Governor Brown approves, the first being Minnesota. While this seems like a no brainer- there has been opposition by major cell phone manufacturers and service providers, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T, and Motorola in the past. While the intended goal of the bill may be good the aforementioned companies argue that it could have unintended consequences, like causing security and privacy threats for consumers. They have also claimed that it is unnecessary because there are already applications available on the market today which provide the service of disabling a phone for consumers at no charge like Lookout on Android and Find My IPhone and IOS.
Even so, Microsoft and Apple have since withdrew their opposition to the bill. Unless something dramatic happens, the bill will be signed into law and all cell phone manufacturers in California will be mandated to provide a kill switch feature in every new device.
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