‘Kill switch’ ordered for California smartphones

California has become the first state in the nation to require that cellphones come with a preloaded “kill switch."

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed into law a bill requiring every smartphone sold in the state to include the anti-theft feature, which makes phones inoperable, by July, his office announced.

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Supporters of the mandatory kill switches say that they make phones less attractive to thieves and would help reduce theft.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D), who introduced the bill earlier this year, said when it passed the state Senate this month that the legislation “will literally stop smartphone thieves in their tracks.”

Opponents, however, have worried that kill switch provisions could make it too easy to disable a phone if, for instance, owners think it may have been stolen but later find it lost in a couch cushion. Civil liberties advocates have also warned that the California law could give too much power to police to silence protests, an argument that has gained new resonance amid the events in Ferguson, Mo. 

The cellphone industry unveiled a voluntary agreement to wipe and lock phones in April and has come out against the California bill.

“Today’s action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken,” Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association said in a statement on Monday evening.

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation," she added. "State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers."

Minnesota enacted a law earlier this year requiring phones be able to download a kill switch-type feature, but the California law is the nation’s first requiring that it come preloaded and turned on for all phones. 

At the national level, lawmakers in Congress and officials at the Federal Communications Commission have urged cellphone companies to do more to promote the kill switches and fight theft. There are currently bills in both the House and Senate to create a national kill switch standard, but they have yet to gain significant traction.

— Updated with information about Minnesota's law at 11:55 a.m.