California Passes Smartphone Remote Kill Switch Law

Mobile Apps

In a move that has me scratching my head, the California legislators have seen fit to pass a law that requires smartphones to have a remote kill switch built into them. Don’t worry for the time being as this only affects smartphones sold after July 1, 2015.

Still, it leaves one wondering, what are they thinking?

While the premise here is to protect people when they have their phones stolen the possibility of this being perverted by either law enforcement of criminal alike has not gone unnoticed. This reminds me of a patent that Apple AAPL +0.13% received in 2012 for technology that would allow the government to disable video, camera and wi-fi remotely on an iPhone.

In the patent Apple states,

As wireless devices such as cellular telephones, pagers, personal media devices and smartphones become ubiquitous, more and more people are carrying these devices in various social and professional settings. The result is that these wireless devices can often annoy, frustrate, and even threaten people in sensitive venues. For example, cell phones with loud ringers frequently disrupt meetings, the presentation of movies, religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals, academic lectures, and test-taking environments.

Slightly beyond the requirements of merely law enforcement. In the summary section of the patent they discuss the ability to remotely disable camera, bluetooth, wi-fi, GPS, ringers and even cause a phone to remain in sleep mode. These are just some of the highlights outlined.

The California Senate Bill No. 962 (.pdf) states,

The bill would require that the technological solution, when enabled, be able to withstand a hard reset, as defined, and prevent reactivation of the smartphone on a wireless network except by an authorized user.

But, the law does not apply to phones that are resold in a secondary market. That being said, there is no provision to disable these features should the phone be resold. This could possibly leave the owner open to remote access from third parties. The “what ifs” are numerous.


The law doesn’t spell out how the kill switch should be designed and implemented. They just stipulate that is should be there otherwise fines from $500 – $2500 could be applied per violation if a retailer knowingly sells a device that does not comply with the law.

I understand the intention here but, I am puzzled as if this was ever thought out properly. No manufacturer will produce a phone specifically for the California market. It just would not make financial sense. That being said, smartphone manufacturers would most likely build this sort of remote kill switch capability into their devices by default. I’m certain they would be able to find a market for this in other jurisdictions.

What was that one about the road being paved with good intentions?

(Image used under CC from Marcin Wichary)

Adapted from Forbes

Related posts

Leave a Comment