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In the wake of Ferguson, critics worry about California's 'kill switch' bill

Apple iPhone
Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

On Monday, the California state legislature passed a controversial "kill switch" bill, which would allow smart phones to be turned off in the event they are lost or stolen.

California bill SB962 is aimed at curbing cellphone theft by requiring all smartphones sold in the state to come equipped with a feature that allows users to remotely wipe their personal data and make the devices inoperable.

But unlike Minnesota's "kill switch" law (which was passed and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May), the California law also includes a carve-out that would enable law enforcement agencies to temporarily disable all smart phones in an area during unspecified emergency situations.

Civil liberties group worry the law could be used to silence protests like the ones seen this week in Ferguson, Mo.

Supporters of the law argue the bill specifically references requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant to interrupt communications services except in the cases of “extreme emergency” situations.

Jake Laperruque, fellow on privacy, surveillance and security at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told The Hill that there is a history of such behavior in California, recalling a 2011 decision by San Francisco's subway authority to shut down cellphone service as a way of slowing the spread of protests on its trains.

“If you give law enforcement a tool that can be abused, you’ll have an instance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” he said.

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