To Kill Switch or Not to Kill Switch?

By: Adam Blaier (New-Media-Editor, ’16)


As you may know, California recently passed a law, which will allow cellphone users to have software/hardware on their phones allowing them to kill their phone if it is stolen. The kill switch option will be the default setting on the phone, and users will be able to switch it off. The bill states,

 This bill would require that any smartphone, as defined, that is manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, and sold in California after that date, include a technological solution at the time of sale, which may consist of software, hardware, or both software and hardware, that, once initiated and successfully communicated to the smartphone, can render inoperable the essential features, as defined, of the smartphone to an unauthori

zed user when the smartphone is not in the possession of an authorized user. The bill would require that the technological solution, when enabled, be able to withstand a hard reset, as defined, and prevent reactivation of the smartphone on a wireless network except by an authorized user.

Starting July 1st, 2015, retailers who knowingly sell phones without the

kill switch, will be fined between $500-$2500. The kill switch places the phone into an unbreakable coffin. It cannot be reset, have its memory wiped, or replaced in the event it is stolen. The backers of this law believe that having this setting on a phone will deter theft of cellphones. Apparently iPhone theft is so common, it has a nickname called “Apple Picking.”

My view of the law is different. I wonder what would happen if a 3rd party accessed the kill switch. I imagine one would be upset if their phone was killed without their knowledge, from an unknown source. I think it leaves the door open for the government to intrude a little more. We already know the NSA is spying on people, and the Patriot Act (while I believe is protecting people) gives the government free reign when it comes to protecting America. I am not a conspiracy theorist by any means, b

ut I do not like the idea of my phone being able to be killed by anyone who isn’t me.

Additionally, how will all of the manufacturers install this hardware/software on all the phones? I know Apple is equipped with this feature. I am not sure about Android, or other opera

ting systems. It makes things a little more difficult, since manufacturers will have to create their phones with the California law in mind, rather than be able to mass-produce phones for everyone. What will happen if more blue states enact the law, and the red ones don’t? Will cellphone manufacturers have to create separate phones for each state? Will they all have to conform to a law they may not agree with, in order to make sales quotas? All these questions are unanswered, but in my opinion, valid.





Suggested readings:

Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 22761 (2014)

Dave Johnson, How California’s Kill-Switch Law Could go Awry, Moneywatch  (Aug. 27, 2014, 3:39 PM),

David Lewis, California Passes Smartphone Kill Switch Law, Forbes Tech, (Aug. 29, 2014, 3:00AM ),

The Editorial Board, California’s smart on phone ‘kill switch’: Our View, USA Today (Sept. 7, 2014, 6:57 p.m. EDT),

Declan McCullagh, NSA spying flap extends to contents of U.S. phone calls, CNET,(June 15th, 2013 @ 4:39 pm),

Ed Grabianowski, How the Patriot Act Works, How Stuff Works, (Sept. 19th, 2014),

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