California “Kill Switch” Proposal Goes Federal, Still a Bad Idea

not quite drugs on the tableLawmakers in California have been
pushing legislation
that would require cellphones sold in the
state to include a “kill switch,” a way to shut down the cellphone
remotely in case it were lost or stolen, and now four Democrat
senators have
a similar proposal for the federal level. It’s a bad
idea, not just because it’s a half-baked scheme concocted by
busybody legislators reflexively in response to the perceived trend
of smartphone thefts. For example, in San Francisco, half of all
robberies reportedly involve a mobile device. But when mobile
devices are ubiquitous in most American cities, the conclusion that
mobile devices are driving thefts, and thus disabling stolen phones
could deter theft, is flimsy.

On the other hand, when wireless carriers point out the many
pitfalls of such legislation, the legislation’s supporters, like
San Francisco’s attorney general, accuse the companies of profit
(from insurance plans) over safety. PC Magazine reported
on wireless carriers’ opposition to a kill switch proposal floated
by Samsung (with prodding from San Francisco’s and New York state’s
attorneys general) last

CTIA, the wireless trade association that represents
all the major U.S. carriers, said in a June fact sheet, however,
that kill switches pose “very serious risks.”

“If created, this capability would be in every handset and the
‘kill’ message would be known to every operator and therefore could
not be kept secret,” CTIA argued. If that falls into the wrong
hands, it “could be used to disable entire groups of customers,
such as Department of Defense, Homeland Security or emergency
services/law enforcement.”

A disabled device would not be able to make emergency calls, CTIA
said, while those who disable lost phones would have to pay
hundreds of dollars for a new device, even if they found the old

The wireless trade association highlighted other ways to “dry up
the aftermarket for stolen phones,” like a database carriers are
working on for stolen devices.

Apple introduced a “kill switch” of sorts in an iOS update

last year
. That feature, called “Activation Lock,” rolled
out with iOS 7, appears to require your Apple ID before you can
wipe a phone clean for re-use. Apple’s new offering likely filled
kind of market desire
for the feature. Other phone makers, and
the carriers they rely on to work with their phones, will make
their own determinations, based on what’s technically feasible,
what customers want, and what they are willing to pay for.
Intervention by lawmakers only serves to distort that process and
force a solution that is unlikely to be the kind of most mutually
beneficial one that would emerge from the market’s workings.

from Hit & Run

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