Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Cellphones Crime Handhelds

California Passes Law Mandating Smartphone Kill Switch 233

Posted by timothy
from the we-control-the-vertical dept.
alphadogg (971356) writes "Smartphones sold in California will soon be required to have a kill switch that lets users remotely lock them and wipe them of data in the event they are lost or stolen. The demand is the result of a new law, put into effect on Monday, that applies to phones manufactured after July 1, 2015, and sold in the state. While its legal reach does not extend beyond the state's borders, the inefficiency of producing phones solely for California means the kill switch is expected to be adopted by phone makers on handsets sold across the U.S. and around the world."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

California Passes Law Mandating Smartphone Kill Switch

Comments Filter:
  • The worrisome part (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:32AM (#47755985)

    From the article:

    Police can also use the tool, but only under the conditions of the existing section 7908 of the California Public Utilities Code. That gives police the ability to cut off phone service in certain situations and typically requires a court order, except in an emergency that poses “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”

    • Oh no, they might killswitch a phone thought to be a bomb trigger.

      I get the worry you've got: that "they" will use this language as a fiat tool to shut down whatever "they" want. Of course if "they" are really that arbitrary, what does the language in the law matter?

      • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @10:18AM (#47756407)

        The language in the law matters because it mandates that carriers must make it technically possible for law enforcement to use the killswitch. Otherwise, it could have been implemented in such a way that only the owner could do it (e.g. by requiring a user-set access code).

        • Did you actually read the bill, because I see absolutely nothing in there to support your claim?

          The bill mandates that the user be given the ability to activate the kill switch. While the bill does not PREVENT the carriers from implementing a solution that may allow someone else (such as the carriers or the government) from activating the switch, it does not MANDATE it either. It only mandates that the user be able to activate it and leaves it up to the manufacturers and carriers how it will be effected.

          C

          • No, I assumed that the line the OP quoted from the article was accurate. If the article's claim that "Police can also use the tool" isn't actually true, that's good.

            • The bill itself mandates only that the user be able to deactivate the device. It does not specify how it should be implemented technologically nor does it specify whether carriers and manufacturers should allow anyone else to deactivate the device but the user. It also mandates that the user be able to disable the deactivation function.

              • It's nice to know the article was wrong, then.

                It also mandates that the user be able to disable the deactivation function.

                Well now, that part is unfortunate! I ought to be allowed to disable the function out of paranoia (and then be hoisted by my own petard when the phone gets stolen and I can't deactivate it).

    • Can't they already cut off phone service without killing the phone itself? Seems like two different things mixed together. If the purpose of the kill switch is to erase data and render inoperable, and therefore prevent theft, there is little logical reason that not erasing a phone's data would somehow present a threat or prevent a criminal act. In fact, it may erase evidence.
      • They can cut off phone service in this and other countries but the theft is going to china etc that does not care or the be broken down to parts.

        • They can cut off phone service in this and other countries but the theft is going to china etc that does not care or the be broken down to parts.

          The chinese have iphone parts. They assemble the parts into iphones and sell them to the US. the iphones are then stolen from the US and returned to china. They are broken back into parts and it starts all over again!

          What an intricate system! If it's not evidence of intelligent design, i don't know what is.

      • The purpose of the kill switch is to ensure Law Enforcement has an unimpeded path to absolutely control comms at the device level if needed. The only thing that keeps them in check on this is political capital. This is a VERY BAD THING.
    • by edibobb (113989) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:42AM (#47756071) Homepage
      ... and the federal government will use the tool whenever they darn well please.
      • by Deadstick (535032)

        In other news, all the MRAPs are being recalled for installation of an undisclosed new feature.

    • Root the phone and roll your eyes.

    • Exactly.

      "We are disabling all phones filming us beating to death this black child FOR YOUR PROTECTION!"

  • Worldwide reach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by countach (534280) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:34AM (#47756005)

    An interesting case of how one US state could change worldwide products.

    • They were going to start putting in "killswitches" anyway - too much worldwide governmental pressure not to. Methinks that line in the summary is the result of wishful, "look-how-important-I-feel" thinking.

    • California is basically a nation-state unto itself. It is so large and relatively wealthy that when it sets standards, it often sets them for the entire nation and occasionally the world.

      IIRC, auto emissions controls were one of those things California began to mandate. Not selling cars in California wasn't an option, so automakers began basically making cars that met their standards and sold them everywhere because the economies of scale made it make sense to do so.

      • by Solandri (704621)
        California has a GDP just shy of $2 trillion. If it were a country, that would put it at #10 in the world, just behind the UK, Russia, Brazil, and Italy; just ahead of India, Canada; bigger than Spain, Austrailia; nearly twice as big as South Korea, Mexico; and four times as big as Sweden, Norway.

        That said, I seriously doubt this will have repercussions outside of California other than the capability being there if other legal jurisdictions should choose to require it. This isn't like a new formulation
    • Re:Worldwide reach (Score:4, Interesting)

      by i.r.id10t (595143) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @10:37AM (#47756611)

      Has happened quite a bit in the past... even now, some firearms have "California models" vs. "everywhere else". Example would be the GSG and/or SIG 1911 clones in 22lr that have threaded barrels for "everywhere else" and the thread protector is either silver soldered in place or a different barrel is used for the California model.

      A less inflammatory example would be the Porsche 930 from '84 to '89. The California emissions laws wouldn't allow them to be imported into the US at all (greymarket cars from Canada aside, and now the old age exemption). Porsche solved this by offering the factory Turbo Look option, priced about half way between the normal 911 model and the 930 model. To make them, they took a 930, removed the rear windshield wiper, the turbo script under the whale tail, and the turbo engine, putting in the 3.2l normal engine. These were known as "M491" cars after the option package code, and just over 1000 were produced in the 5 year model span (420 for the '83 model year, dwindling down to 15 or so in '89 and almost all were coupes - very few cabriolets were made, and only a few targa models), almost all of which were for US delivery. Buyers got that great wide back end sexy body look, the better brakes, suspension, etc. of the 930, but the regular 3.2l engine that could pass California's emissions laws.

    • Consider that if California was an independent nation it would rank as the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world, then think on that comment some more. It's not too surprising.
    • Yet I have not heard of a pandemic of hacker-led mass bricking of iPhones.

      There are some psychopathic blackhats who just destroy for the sake of destroying. Fortunately these are few - evidenced by the near total lack of PC malware that destroys the computer.

      Then there are hacktivists who would do something like bricking a million phones at once the first month after this bill's required new phones are on the market to prove the point that government mandates come with unintended consequences.

      It will be i

  • Bets on first use (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:35AM (#47756011)

    How many want to take up a bet when the next 'troublesome' protest gets targeted with the kill switch... in the name of public safety, of course....

    • by PackMan97 (244419)

      Exactly! Or maybe someone took some photos or videos that a government doesn't want to get out. Simply kill the phone and you are done with that problem.

      The bad scenarios are far more dangerous than not having a kill switch.

      Besides, weren't there apps that do this that folks could purchase of their own free will"?

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        Besides, weren't there apps that do this that folks could purchase of their own free will?

        There are, but the feature doesn't work as a theft deterrent unless almost everybody has it. If only a few people have it, thieves will steal phones anyway, because the likelihood is they can resell most of the phones they steal. If/when we get to the point where almost all phones auto-brick after they are stolen, cell-phone thieves will lose their profit incentive and move on to something else.

      • by qbast (1265706)
        Yes, but the problem with these apps is that they give control only to owner of the phone, not to police.
      • Um, it is not a "simple" matter.

        1) There is no mandate that the phones have a way for anyone but the user to kill them, so law enforcement and the carriers may not even have the ability to initiate a kill switch on many or even all models of phones with the feature equipped.

        2) If the police know you have incriminating video and they are corrupt, it is much simpler for them to simply seize your phone as evidence and then delete the files or "lose" the device. Figuring out exactly who had the "incriminating

    • How many want to take up a bet when the next 'troublesome' protest gets targeted with the kill switch... in the name of public safety, of course....

      No no no... it'll be an "accident". They just wanted to kill the phone of this one guy who was really a threat, and accidentally bricked and wiped the phones of all the protestors totally without meaning to.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:40AM (#47756055) Homepage

    I predict it will be less than a year before law enforcement decides to shut down all cell phones of people they disagree with (like protesters).

    I predict it will be less than a year before hackers figure out how to brick or otherwise damage cell phones.

    Because, as usual, when you try to pass a legal solution to a technical problem, you will introduce new technical problems, and if law enforcement can abuse something they will.

    This will be misused, it's only a matter of time. And, since manufacturers will decide to make the phone the same for everywhere, we're all fucked because of a decision in California. And I don't trust that the carriers won't brick a phone you own if your bill is late, instead of just cancelling your service they'll kill your phone.

    Everyone around the world will now have a phone which has a loop-hole allowing law enforcement, government, and private industry to brick it. Add to that the likely back doors for law enforcement to look into your phone, and suddenly your phone is controlled by entities which aren't you.

    • You do realize that both Android and iOS have this feature baked in, right? You can remotely wipe your phone, and with a court order the police can coerce you to do it as well (if you worry about such things). All that's required is the device lock, which is fairly trivial given the propensity for modders to brick phones accidentally.

       

    • by swb (14022) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @10:01AM (#47756275)

      iPhones have had the ability to be remote wiped for a long time. Yet I have not heard of a pandemic of hacker-led mass bricking of iPhones. Dirty hipsters and their iPhones have been at the center of a lot of protests yet we haven't heard of mass iPhone shutdowns by the police in response to demonstrations.

      I think government/law enforcement already have the powers they physically need to fuck with cell phones. Between Stingray devices and the ability to present national security letters to carriers or service providers, if they wanted to they could get IMEIs blacklisted or get someone like Apple to brick a specific phone.

      I think this just finally cuts off the ability of the cell carriers to encourage and profit from theft by activating stolen phones. Maybe if we treated AT&T stores like pawn shops and told them it was loss of their licenses and jail time for trafficking in stolen property if they activated stolen phones the kill switches wouldn't be necessary, but because corporate profits and lobbying we don't.

      • Maybe if we treated AT&T stores like pawn shops

        Best point. Why are the phone companies accepting phones that are already linked to other service? Well, I suppose all it needs is changing a SIM in GSM phones, but CDMA phones are stable, and it would be so easy to check the IMEI being registered on a system. Especially iPhones because people tend to keep in touch with Apple.

      • iPhones have had the ability to be remote wiped for a long time. Yet I have not heard of a pandemic of hacker-led mass bricking of iPhones. Dirty hipsters and their iPhones have been at the center of a lot of protests yet we haven't heard of mass iPhone shutdowns by the police in response to demonstrations.

        I think government/law enforcement already have the powers they physically need to fuck with cell phones. Between Stingray devices and the ability to present national security letters to carriers or service providers, if they wanted to they could get IMEIs blacklisted or get someone like Apple to brick a specific phone.

        It is much more useful to have the phone active and record all conversations. Why would you cut off your "bug?" Also, hacking a phone to brick it is pretty boring. The person is inconvenienced so much that they waste an hour getting a new phone. Also also, anyone with any common sense in a protest is going to use a burner phone, which is much harder to back track to the buyer.

      • The difference is before they could shut off the tower. Thats fine, thats like the FBI shutting off power in Die Hard, expected. This is control over the physical device itself. To an I.T. person this is absolutely abhorrent. Its like saying all comps in a corp network need a government kill switch to protect from botnets.
    • by Jahava (946858)

      I predict it will be less than a year before law enforcement decides to shut down all cell phones of people they disagree with (like protesters).

      They'd have to go through all of the trouble of identifying the individuals and gaining cooperation of the carriers/vendors. When they're close enough to identify individuals by name, why go to the trouble of locking phones? They'll just do what they do now and arrest them.

      I predict it will be less than a year before hackers figure out how to brick or otherwise damage cell phones.

      This depends on how the lock is implemented. iOS and Android already have some remote lock/wipe features that haven't been heavily hit by hackers. Mass phone wipes haven't been a thing yet. I'm sure people will try and I'm sure some will

  • by Ronin Developer (67677) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @10:49AM (#47756737)

    So, they are mandating that cell phone manufacturers implement a kill switch to be able to sell mobile phones in CA? Is the cell phone market in CA big enough for the manufacturers to really care? Or, will they tell to CA to screw off and simply not sell in CA and the Nevada cell phone business and black market phone market will boom?

    This will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  • I think all these phones should come with a copy of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four and a copy of the US constitution... for irony's sake. They should also be made suscpetible to packet injection so that the authorities can alter the information that people receive through them. Down the memory hole!

  • ... the inefficiency of producing phones solely for California means the kill switch is expected to be adopted by phone makers on handsets sold across the U.S. and around the world.

    First they tempt you with California legislation.

    Next thing you know, you're hooked on NAFTA, ACTA, and God knows what other Profit-Seeking Acronyms (PSA's).

    I suppose we should feel lucky that Amazon is not using United Nations Black Drones to deliver tracking devices (such as your new phone) to your door ... or wherever they know you are ....

  • How free are we if the state can take control of our electronic devices and we have no option to opt out? What does freedom mean if the state can tell manufactures what features phones must have? Can I build my own phone that doesn't have this feature? Can I sell it to you? Will they put me in jail if I do? Will they put _you_ in jail for being in possession of a non-government phone? When things like this happen in countries like China everyone jumps on the bandwagon and says how great America because we a
    • No, you can't opt out, at least for a phone you're going to sell. By the same token, you can't opt out of FCC regs limiting the frequencies and power levels of your phone, nor can you opt out of regs on the emissions of your car.

  • This is fine so long as the key to do so is held only by the owner of the phone. Ex: It can't be some kind of message like "WIPE PHONE NOW" it needs to be "WIPE " or something like that.

  • The technological solution shall be reversible, so that if an authorized user obtains possession of the smartphone after the essential features of the smartphone have been rendered inoperable, the operation of those essential features can be restored by an authorized user

    ...

    An authorized user of a smartphone may affirmatively elect to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution at any
    time.

    Apparently in order to combat problem of theft of smartphones this law forces thieves to coerce the VICTIM of theft into disabling technological solution prior to walking off with the device making an already dangerous encounter more perilous and traumatic.

  • According to the Federal Communications Commission, smartphone thefts now account for 30 to 40 percent of robberies in many major cities across the country. Many of these robberies often turn violent with some resulting in the loss of life.

    Consumer Reports projects that 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012.

    In order to be effective, antitheft technological solutions need to be ubiquitous, as thieves cannot distinguish between those smartphones that have the solutions enabled and those that do not.

    Is there something wrong with the water in California? Did zombies, head crabs and giant bugs with straws feast upon brains of lawmakers?

    It seems either California is going to single handedly put an end to cell phone theft OR they are going to single handedly further endanger the lives of billions of cell phone users around the world. Which is more likely?

  • How long until the phone companies start killing phones for late payment or cancellation of service? This does not bode well for freedom to choose your carrier or for unlocking phones.

  • "except in an emergency that poses “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”

    Nope, nothing here to be abused...

    Start wearing cameras ladies and gents...

  • Guess what I brought back from Vegas? My next phone.

  • I'm about ready to upgrade my iPhone 4, so I guess I will be in the market for a new phone around June 2015.

(1) Never draw what you can copy. (2) Never copy what you can trace. (3) Never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

Working...