California Senate OKs requiring 'kill switches' on cellphones

California Senate OKs requiring 'kill switches' on cellphones
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state Senate on Thursday approved a measure requiring cellphones sold in California to be equipped with "kill switches" that make them inoperable if stolen.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other law enforcement officials backed the legislation as a way to reduce robberies, many of them violent, in which thieves take smartphones to resell them.

“We have a crime wave sweeping our state,” Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) told his colleagues. “We are trying to keep our constituents safe on their streets and in their neighborhoods.”

The bill had previously failed in a Senate vote, but Leno agreed to change it to exclude electronic tablets and to delay the date by which phones must be made with kill switches -- from Jan. 1 2015, to July 1 of that year. Those changes resulted in Apple and Microsoft dropping their opposition to the measure, but others in the industry remain against SB 962.

The Senate vote sends the measure to the Assembly.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Mark Wyland of Escondido, voted against the measure because of concerns about civil fines of up to $2,500 for retailers who sell phones that lack kill switches. Many smartphones are made outside the state and may wind up mistakenly shipped to a California retailer without a switch, he said.

"I am very concerned about the liability issue," Wyland said. "It's a big burden on a retailer to ensure that every single product they sell meets every single standard."

The measure was also opposed by CTIA-The Wireless Assn., the top industry trade group.

"Given the breadth of action the industry has voluntarily taken, it was unnecessary for the California Senate to approve SB 962, which would mandate a specific form of anti-theft functionality," said Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for trade group. "State-by-state technology mandates stifle innovation to the ultimate detriment to the consumer."