California and the Smartphone Kill Switch: What Does It Mean?

Smartphone Kill Switch

After being rejected once, California’s smartphone kill switch law for smartphones has again gone before the California Senate and has passed this time. This means that smartphones sold in California must have a kill switch by law and raises the immediate question: “Wait, what’s a kill switch?”

While “kill switch” sounds worrisome, it actually refers to preventing identity theft other criminal activity: Let’s go over some FAQs about this security feature and why it is stirring up both the government and the phone market.

What is a Smartphone Kill Switch and Why Would It Exist?

A kill switch is a feature on a smartphone that allows someone to remotely disable the phone, barring it from being used at all. The person with the smartphone just gets a blank or locked screen. The idea works something like this: You get home from work, and realize that you left your smartphone on public transit by accident. Chances are very good that someone else has already picked it up by now, possibly to steal it. Sure, you have tracking options and the passcode screen, but those can be disabled or bypassed if a thief really knows what they are doing.

The kill switch is a solution to this problem. Through a website or phone call you can turn off and lock your phone no matter where it or what is done to it. The only way to bring the phone back to life is to provide a specific password to your provider or to the phone itself. Think of it as an extra heavy-duty passcode that you can activate from anywhere. Apple and other major

Please note there is a big difference between a kill switch and remote wiping. A remote wipe automatically deletes smartphone data, often returning it to factory settings. A kill switch simply disables the phone. Some kill switches may have the option to also wipe data, but one of the reasons the kill switch is growing in popularity is because it safeguards your phone data without destroying it.

Why is the Kill Switch Required in California?

Actually, it isn’t required quite yet – the law takes affect halfway through next year, so you still have quite a bit of time to buy phones in California without worrying about it. But the reason California decided to adopt the law is to help protect its citizens from identity theft and its businesses from dangers posed by the growing trend of BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device.”

You see, when people start using the same smartphone for both business and home life, information can get mixed up and it becomes much easier for a theft to steal valuable business data – not to mention financial information about the owner that could lead to identity. Some businesses with BYOD policies already require their employees to use or activate a remote wipe function to protect their own data..

The California law first stumbled because legislators were not sure all businesses wanted this option and suspected that buyers would simply buy phones outside of the state, but ultimately it was passed for security reasons. Not only is a kill switch safer for data than a remote wipe, it is becoming increasingly handy. According to the data supplied by San Francisco, around 65 percent of robberies in that city alone deal with mobile communications equipment.

When the law goes into effect, when you buy a smartphone in California it will come with a kill switch function automatically enabled. Yes, you can still choose to disable it yourself if you want to. And no, this does not affect individual decision made by businesses on remote wiping.

Is This a Trend? Will My Next Phone Have a Smartphone Kill Switch?

Possibly — especially if you want it to. Both Minnesota and California have passed smartphone kill switch laws, and although they are a little different (California requires the software, while in Minnesota phone carriers can get away with just offering a possible download) both focus on how important the kill switch can be. A federal law requiring an enabled switch may not be too far away.

For a while now, the Wireless Association (a.k.a, CTIA) has been against smartphone kill switch in principle and many carriers have agreed. You see, have a constant way to remotely access your phone also makes it easier for advanced digital criminals to use that same capability and remotely bypass security. Digital terrorists could also hack into law enforcement or government phones and shut them all down. Additionally, carriers appreciated the money they got from protection insurance.

This has kept kill switches off the market for several years, but now the times are changing. Government law, more advanced smartphone security, and new industry protocols are pushing toward the U.S. toward kill switch adoption.