New legislation for a digital world aims to reduce thefts


Amrita Kaur

Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco argues for kill switch legislation at a news conference with Bay Area politicians and law enforcement officials Feb. 7.

Amrita Kaur, Staff member

New legislation was proposed on Thursday, Feb. 6, mandating a “kill switch” for all smartphones sold after January 2015.

The new law would require smartphone manufacturers to equip their products with a technology that allows the victims of loss or theft to remotely make their phones inoperable.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is spearheading this effort  with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr.

During a press conference Feb. 7 in San Francisco, Leno was accompanied by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and members of the San Francisco and Oakland Law Enforcement, unveiling the first-of-its-kind legislation SB962.

Supporters of the bill believe a kill switch will deter thieves from stealing mobile devices.

“Smartphone theft is a very serious public crisis,” said Leno. “This is a crime of convenience, if we remove the convenience, we remove the crime.”

As an example of the market shift in criminal behavior, Leno highlighted that 67 percent of all theft in San Francisco and 75 percent in Oakland involve smartphones.

Paul Boken’s daughter, Megan, a 23-year-old college student, was murdered when two thieves attacked her to steal her cell phone.

“What happened to my precious daughter can happen to anyone in this room, to any of our children,” said Boken.

In the criminal world it is known as “Apple picking,” Suhr said. “It is property theft, but it is a violent crime. We should not give them incentive to pick these apples.”

Leno hopes the bill will be signed into law by September.

Quan added, “In Australia the kill switch has been in use for 11 years. Their smartphone theft is so low, it is considered negligible.”

College students are heavily impacted by smartphone robbers. UC Berkeley’s theft rate is so high that it has stopped reporting the crime to law enforcement.

Mobile phone carriers indirectly profit from such crimes. The industry gains approximately $30 billion from replacements and theft-and-loss insurance products.

The manufacturers of electronic devices have been very supportive of the implementation of the kill switch technology. The resistance comes from the carriers who are refusing to cooperate with legislators and law enforcement in this endeavor.

“A business model based on the victimization of customers is not a business model worth defending,” concluded Leno.

Violators of the law would be imposed a penalty of $500 – $2500 per violation.