A heated debate has been underway in the California state legislature over your telephone. Whether you knew it or not, government leaders and consumer protection groups have been battling it out over the proposed requirement that would declare mobile phone manufacturers to provide kill switches on any smartphone sold in California (the requirement that tablets be equipped with a kill switch was lifted).
A kill switch allows any user to contact his mobile service provider and activate the option to “brick” the phone, making it entirely useless. Not only would this wipe all data from the phone, but would also make it impossible to activate in another user’s name, hence the terming “bricking,” meaning it would be about as useful as a brick.
Imagine having your phone stolen by a mugger and watching from where you were forced to lay on the sidewalk as he walks away with your phone…and the pictures of your young children, your bank account app, your classified work emails, and more. Being able to brick the phone immediately would not only take all of that information right out of his hands, but would also keep him from wanting to steal your phone in the first place. He basically has a matter of minutes to get that phone switched to a new user and new carrier in order to block your kill switch, and it’s just not worth it.
On the other hand, imagine an entirely different scenario. A months’-long investigation leads to a manhunt that brings down a major suspect, one who’s been on several most wanted lists for horrific violent crimes. He arrives at the police station for booking and is given his one phone call. Instead of calling family or his lawyer, he calls his service provider and tells them the phone has been stolen. All of the evidence the police needed to hand over to a grand jury just got deleted with that phone call.
There are good reasons and bad reasons to even have a kill switch on the phone, and consumers need to be protected in the event of the most likely scenarios. Supporters of the initiative see this as a way to cut down on phone thefts, a crime which not only chews up valuable law enforcement resources to address the rising reports, but also could potentially decrease violent crimes in which consumers are attacked for their phones. Critics, however, argue that the kill switch is expensive and unnecessary, but much of that criticism has come from an insurance company that offers loss and theft plans for phones.
What politicians are currently fighting over, though, is the mandate that all phones manufactured after July 2015 be equipped with this ability. As it currently stands, most of the major cellular providers and a number of device makers have signed on to follow voluntary compliance, but are resisting government mandates on the grounds that it’s difficult to manufacture a whole product subset based on the wishes of one individual state.
But as consumers, what do you think? Which scenario is more likely to involve you, one in which a mugging or theft is thwarted because all you have to do is brick your phone, or one in which the price of cell phones in one state just increased exponentially to cover the costs of redesigning all of the phones sold within that state? Let us know which side of the issue you see as a greater threat to individual security.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.