California passes cellphone 'kill switch' bill

California is one step away from requiring cellphones to come with “kill switches.”

The state Senate voted 27-8 on Monday to pass the newest version of a bill requiring cellphones sold within the state to allow users to make their phones inoperable if stolen, according to a report from CNET.

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The original bill — introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno (D) earlier this year — overcame opposition and passed the state Senate in May. The state Assembly passed an amended version last week.

Leno praised last week’s Assembly vote.

“This legislation will literally stop smartphone thieves in their tracks by ensuring all new smartphones sold in California come pre-enabled with theft-deterrent technology,” he said in a statement.

“With law enforcement agencies reporting a drop in thefts of phones that already provide kill switches to their customers, it is clear that this is an idea whose time has come.”

In a statement, CTIA-The Wireless Association — which represents wireless companies including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — urged California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) not to sign the legislation.

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation," the group’s Vice President of External and State Affairs Jamie Hastings said.

“State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers."

Hastings pointed to the wireless industry's work to combat cellphone theft, calling the bill "unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken."

In April, CTIA announced a voluntary agreement among its members to create anti-theft tools but stressed the need for flexibility.

“This commitment will continue to protect consumers while recognizing the companies’ need to retain flexibility so they may constantly innovate, which is key to stopping smartphone theft,” the voluntary commitment said.

Federal policymakers have been pushing wireless and phone companies to do more on the issue of cellphone kill switches to combat theft.

In June, the Federal Communications Commission held a workshop on cellphone kill switches, where Chairman Tom Wheeler pushed wireless and phone companies to develop tools that allow users to wipe their phones of personal data and make them inoperable if stolen.

“It is time to have an automatic, common solution that everybody can take advantage of to protect their mobile device and protect themselves,” he said.

Wheeler was joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), both of whom have bills that would create a national standard for cellphone kill switches.

“To me this is all about eliminating that incentive” for thieves to steal phones, Klobuchar said.

Serrano pushed companies to make use of the “increasingly common ground” on the issue and create a mechanism “that is there, readily available, for you to clear your phone,” he said.

“Our current efforts have not been adequate to stem these incentives.”