California’s “Kill Switch” law: Does it Reduce Phone Theft?

September 3, 2014 •

kill-switch-lawLast week, California put into law a requirement that all mobile phones be enabled with “kill switch” devices that can be used to brick a device if it is stolen. The law requires that the kill switch be enabled by default. And, because California is such a large market, industry experts believe that the default kill switch will become standard on mobile devices nationwide.

A kill switch could be a boon if someone breaks your car window and swipes your Android phone out of your car phone mount; currently 20 to 40 percent of robberies include a mobile device. The kill switch law is intended to make stolen devices worthless, making them unattractive to thieves.

However, privacy and security experts say that the kill switches are not without concerns. Mobile carriers said they worried that the kill switch function would make phones more vulnerable to malicious hackers. People who find your security details could render your phone inoperable at a whim.

Free speech advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation also expressed worries that governments could use the technology to shut down wide swaths of communication, as has happened in other parts of the world.

California’s law is the first kill switch law that requires that the function be enabled upon purchase. Other states with kill switch laws make the function optional. And, it appears that savvy users will be able to opt out of the service.

However, when you consider that while a large portion of people store passwords and sensitive banking information on their phones, only about 26% of people bother to password protect or otherwise secure their mobile devices. When it comes to our mobile security, the kill switch is just one of many vulnerabilities.