California Senate Passes Smartphone Kill Switch Bill

California’s Senate passed a bill requiring smartphone makers such as Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. to include technology that would let customers remotely wipe data from their devices and render them inoperable when stolen.

The Senate, controlled by Democrats, approved the measure 26 to 8. It would require all new smartphones sold in the state beginning in July 2015 to have theft-deterrent technology, also known as a kill switch, installed and activated. The state Assembly, also controlled by Democrats, will consider the legislation next.

Mobile-phone companies have been under pressure from police around the U.S. to add more anti-theft features to devices as robberies rise nationwide. A similar bill passed the Minnesota Senate May 2. San Francisco is considering its own law and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pushing for federal legislation.

“The theft and robbery of smartphones is the fastest-growing crime in many cities across California because thieves have a financial incentive to steal and then resell these valuable devices on the black market,” said Mark Leno, the San Francisco Democrat who wrote the bill. “We can end this crime of convenience and protect the safety of smartphone consumers by ensuring that every new phone sold in our state has theft-deterrent technology.”

Industry Pressure

Similar legislation was rejected in the Senate a month ago amid pressure from the industry. Leno amended the bill to exclude tablets from the mandate and to extend the effective date by six months to allow companies to sell off existing supplies that don’t have the technology.

South Korea’s Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, along with Apple, AT&T Inc., and 10 other smartphone makers and wireless companies, agreed last month to offer such technology beginning next year. Leno said the voluntary measure was “inadequate.”

Kimberly Kulesh, a spokeswoman for Samsung Mobile, declined to comment on the Senate action. Apple, based in Cupertino, California, the second-largest maker of smartphones, had opposed the original legislation. The company withdrew its objection after the bill was amended, Leno said.

While Apple won’t discuss its position on the legislation, the company already offers security options for its devices, said spokesman Colin Johnson. Apple phones and tablets can be protected with applications that allow the owner to track the location of the device and remotely set a passcode or erase all personal data if stolen, he said.

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