California law orders kill-switch software in smartphones

BY Charles Pulliam-Moore  August 26, 2014 at 3:17 PM EST
Photo by Flickr user Blake Patterson

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday mandating that all smartphones sold in the state are to be installed with a software that remotely clears the device of data. Photo by Flickr user Blake Patterson

In case of theft, residents of California will be able to remotely wipe their smartphone data with the push of a button.

This kill-switch functionality will be built into all smartphones sold in the “Golden State” manufactured after July 1, 2015. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on Monday.

The bill, first introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), is designed to help curtail cell phone theft. In addition to giving people the ability to protect their information, the kill-switch bill levies a civil penalty ranging between $500-$2,500 against anyone found to be selling stolen phones.

This feature, which is optional, is not universally supported.

Both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the CTIA wireless industry  lobbying group have said that a number of third party applications already provide this functionality for most cellphones. In June, the EFF said that giving consumers easy access to data wiping capabilities could provide hackers with a vulnerable entry point to intercept private information.

Similar claims were made by a number of cellphone manufacturers and wireless carriers when the bill first passed through the Senate. Apple, AT&T, Google, and Verizon, who all stood to benefit financially from the sale of cellphone replacements and monthly insurance, reversed their opposition following questions about the ethics of their position.