Mobile kill switch

10/02/2014

Legislators in California are pushing for mobile device manufacturers to make it easier to permanently block stolen devices such as smartphones.

The bill, sponsored by state Senator Mark Leno, is designed to require device makers to ensure that stolen devices can’t be reactivated. This would be in addition to blocking the device’s IMEI number, which relies on carriers adding the number to their blacklist. The suggestion of the bill would be that once a device is stolen then it can never be used.

In 2012 the police in England and Wales reported 107,000 thefts from a person, an increase of 8 per cent on 2011. This rise was attributed to a rise in the theft of high-value items such as smartphones.

The problem with IMEI blocking is that it just stops someone from using a phone for example on a phone network. An iPhone could still be used to do other things than make calls so having a feature where the device could be blocked from doing anything would surely as more of a deterrent.

In fact as written, the bill appears to apply to some devices that typically are never activated in the first place, such as tablets without mobile connectivity and even products such as the iPod Touch. This sounds like a good idea as these kind of device as likely to owned by children and teenagers with potentially more risk of loss and theft.

US law makers are not alone in calling for device manufacturers to implement so-called kill switches in devices. In 2013 Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘we need the industry to take this issue seriously and come up with a technical solution that can squash the illegal smartphone market that is fuelling this crime.’

More information

California Legislative Information - An act to add Section 22761 to the Business and Professions Code, relating to mobile communications devices