Yesterday, California became the first state in the U.S. to require that every smartphone sold in the state include anti-theft security features that are enabled by default. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on Monday. Minnesota also has a kill switch bill, but unlike California’s it does not require the anti-theft features to be turned on by default.
Advocates of this bill believe that if thieves know that a stolen smartphone will have this feature enabled, and the phone will be quickly rendered useless, it will greatly cut down on the incentive to steal these devices. They believe an opt-in approach, as in Minnesota, will not be effective. As State Senator Mark Leno says:
Opt-in does not end the problem. Because it will not be ubiquitous. The idea is that if thieves expect the software to be enabled on all phones, they won’t bother stealing them in the first place. California has just put smartphone thieves on notice.
The law aims to crack down on what government officials and police departments, in California and elsewhere, have called an epidemic. In 2013, more than 3 million Americans reported being victims of smartphone theft, making this the most common form of robbery in the country.
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The law applies to smartphones only, not tablets or other gadgets, sold after July 1, 2015, and carries fines of $500 to $2500 for selling phones that do not comply. Given the large size of California’s market, it’s likely that most manufacturers will offer only a single version of their devices nationwide, and all consumers will benefit from the feature.
California’s law also requires that the anti-theft technology include a method to let the lawful owner of the device reactivate it if the phone is recovered.
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