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California "Kill Switch" Bill Dies in Senate

Meanwhile, more than half of all robberies in San Francisco now involve the theft of a mobile device.

Composite image by Re/code

A California bill that would have required cellphone makers to install a “kill switch” to render stolen devices inoperable has died in the California state Senate.

The measure, proposed by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, received a vote of 19 to 17 in favor on Thursday, but the bill failed to garner the 21 votes required for passage.

The proposed legislation was viewed by some as over-broad — the language was written in such a way that it would have required the anti-theft technology in a range of devices, not just mobile phones.

Device makers and carriers had opposed the bill while law enforcement had backed it. The bill comes amid a global debate on how to address a rising trend of smartphone theft.

Several device manufacturers, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, as well as several major wireless carriers, all pledged to take steps on their own to discourage pilfering. Proposals include offering customers a way to remotely delete their information or disable the device.

Apple, for example, offers an “activation lock” feature that allows someone whose phone has been stolen to remotely lock the device.

The kill switch proposal had won the backing of several district attorneys and police chiefs. Its proponents note that smartphone theft has been on the rise: More than half of all robberies in San Francisco now involve the theft of a mobile device.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon called the vote “disheartening.”

“This technology already exists, but it needs to be deployed in a way which doesn’t rely on consumers to seek out the solutions and turn them on. That’s all this legislation does,” Gascon said. “With their no vote(s), 17 members of the Senate chose to protect billion dollar industry profits over the safety of the constituents they were elected to serve.”

Leno, who has the opportunity to bring the bill back for another vote, issued a statement expressing optimism that colleagues in the Legislature will continue to explore “the critical need for this bill to become law.”

A telecommunications industry trade organization lauded the vote. It issued a statement that underscored the industry’s voluntary commitment to do more to discourage theft, as well as its database of stolen cellphones that carriers could use to decide which devices should not be activated.

“We encourage consumers to learn more about these efforts, along with the features, apps and tools available today to protect themselves and their devices,” said Jamie Hastings, CTIA vice president of external affairs.

This article originally appeared on

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