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California seeks antitheft bill for smartphones and tablets

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Legislation requiring all smartphones and tablets sold in the state to have a ‘kill switch’ that would render the device unusable after stolen will be introduced on Friday in the California State House, according to The New York Times.

State Senator Mark Leno of California, a Democrat, is expected to introduce legislation requiring all smartphones and tablets sold in the state to include this kind of feature.

The bill, which is sponsored by George Gascón, San Francisco’s district attorney, would require phones sold in California on or after Jan. 1, 2015, to include the antitheft solution. Companies that sold phones without kill switches would be subject to fines of up to $2,500 for each device sold.

If legislation is passed then the legislation would most likely push smartphone makers to add kill switches in all their devices in the country, because it would be inefficient for manufacturers to make cellphones meant to be sold only in California.

Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices -- mostly smartphones -- cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, according to an FCC study.

The study revealed that smartphone thefts reached highs in several metropolitan cities, and they rose again last year. In San Francisco, 2,400 cellphones were stolen last year, a 23 percent rise from 2012, according to the San Francisco police. Phone thefts also grew in other major cities, New York and Washington, D.C., last year, according to statistics from the police in those cities.

CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the cellphone carriers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US will probably resist the legislation. Last year, CTIA said in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission that ‘a kill switch isn’t the answer.’

CTIA said that a kill switch would pose risks, because hackers who took control of the feature could disable phones for customers, including the phones used by officials in the Department of Defense and in law enforcement.

Retrieving a stolen phone would pose a problem as it could not be reactivated but Apple has a solution. The new antitheft feature, Activation Lock, on Apple allows a customer to disable a phone that has been lost as well as reactivate it with the correct user name and password after the device has been found.

Michael Altschul, senior vice president and general counsel for CTIA, said the carriers moved quickly to work with government and law enforcement officials to address cellphone theft. He said the group had helped create a nationwide database for deactivating cellphones that have been reported stolen.

However, the nationwide database would not assist phones taken overseas.

In October, New York State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, a Bronx Democrat, introduced a bill to go after the sellers of stolen phones by making it illegal for any business in the state to buy or sell a used smartphone without proof of legitimate ownership. The bill is sitting in a Senate committee.

Hopefully, California will lead to a new effort in reducing the theft of smartphones and tablets. ‘With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available,’ Senator Leno said in a statement.

For more articles on smartphones mobile traffic, Apple and other technology updates, please view list in Author's suggestions and video atop this article on smartphone theft rising and kill switch as an answer.

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