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Senate Dems introduce ‘kill switch’ bill

New legislation in the Senate would require cellphones to come with a “kill switch” to make them less appealing to thieves.

Mandating the feature on all new cellphones would erase people’s personal and financial data and render the phones useless if they are stolen, the four Democrats backing the measure say. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), almost one-third of all robberies involve a stolen phone.

“Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims,” Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Dem senator presses FTC to ramp up Equifax hack probe MORE (D-Minn.) said in a statement. 

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“This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private, protect their identity and finances, and render the phone inoperable to the thieves.”

Sens. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiRobert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns MORE (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoGreen group backs Sens. Baldwin, Nelson for reelection WHIP LIST: Shutdown looms as Senate lacks votes to pass House spending bill Dem senator: Trump 'made clear' that he wants 'white people to come to our country' MORE (D-Hawaii) also introduced the bill.

Klobuchar has previously pushed for phones to include kill switches, and pressed five top wireless companies on the issue in December. 

Apple recently introduced a feature similar to a kill switch on iPhones, but the phone industry has largely declined to make the feature standard.

Companies say that the technology could make it easier for hackers to disable people’s phones, which could have especially damaging consequences for police officers and other public safety officials. Privacy advocates have also worried that the government could abuse the technology to wipe people’s phones.

Instead, the companies have worked with the FCC to create a database of stolen phones.

A number of police chiefs on Thursday endorsed the Democrats’ bill, the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act. So did Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports

“If your smartphone is stolen, you should be able to shut down the device and delete your personal data remotely,” Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement. “This bill protects consumers against smartphone thieves and cracks down on the secondary market where stolen phones are sold.”