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California Lawmaker to Introduce Bill Mandating Smartphone ‘Kill Switch’

A California state senator plans to introduce legislation that would require every new smartphone sold in the state to carry anti-theft technology that renders the device inoperable if stolen.

State Sen. Mark Leno’s legislation, the first of its kind in the U.S., would increase pressure facing smartphone makers and wireless carriers to introduce technological solutions that could stem the growing number of cell phone robberies nationwide.

Top law enforcement officials, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, have demanded that manufacturers create new technology to make their devices less attractive to criminals. In response, Apple introduced a new feature this summer that a company executive said would render stolen devices useless.

But the effectiveness of that feature, Activation Lock, has yet to be determined. In addition, Schneiderman is investigating whether phone companies rejected a so-called “kill switch” in Samsung smartphones because it would undercut their sales of phone insurance. Two other phone manufacturers, Microsoft and Google, have yet to introduce new anti-theft technology in their smartphones this year.

Schneiderman and Gascon gave the four phone manufacturers until June 2014 to come up with a solution that would undercut the value of stolen smartphones on the black market.

Many details of Leno’s bill have yet to be determined, such as what penalties companies would face for not complying with the law. If passed, the mandate would take effect at the beginning of 2015.

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