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 Klobuchar (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 Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mazie Hirono (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.”