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California Lawmaker To Introduce Bill Mandating Smartphone 'Kill Switch'

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A California state senator plans to introduce legislation next month that would require every new smartphone sold in the state to carry anti-theft technology that renders the device inoperable if stolen.

State Sen. Mark Leno's legislation, the first of its kind in the U.S., would increase pressure facing smartphone makers and wireless carriers to introduce technological solutions that could stem the growing number of cell phone robberies nationwide.

Top law enforcement officials, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, have demanded that manufacturers create new technology to make their devices less attractive to criminals. In response, Apple introduced a new feature this summer that a company executive said would render stolen devices useless.

But the effectiveness of that feature, Activation Lock, has yet to be determined. In addition, Schneiderman is investigating whether phone companies rejected a so-called "kill switch" in Samsung smartphones because it would undercut their sales of phone insurance. Two other phone manufacturers, Microsoft and Google, have yet to introduce new anti-theft technology in their smartphones this year.

Schneiderman and Gascon gave the four phone manufacturers until June 2014 to come up with a solution that would undercut the value of stolen smartphones on the black market.

“I appreciate the efforts that many of the manufacturers are making, but the deadline we agreed upon is rapidly approaching and most do not have a technological solution in place," Gascón said. "Californians continue to be victimized at an alarming rate, and this legislation will compel the industry to make the safety of their customers a priority."

Many details of Leno's bill have yet to be determined, such as what penalties companies would face for not complying with the law. If passed, the mandate would take effect at the beginning of 2015. Leno, a Democrat, represents San Francisco, where more than half of all robberies last year involved mobile devices.

“One of the top catalysts for street crime in many California cities is smartphone theft, and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent,” Leno said in a statement. “We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cell phone thieves in their tracks. It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities.”

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