Senators Want to Help You Kill Your iPhone

A new bill would require smartphones to come equipped with a “kill switch” owners could flip if their phone is lost or stolen.

A woman uses her iPhone March 1, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Feb. 14, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

What would it take for you to kill your iPhone?

Con­gress may soon make it easi­er for you per­form such a tech­no­lo­gic­al ex­e­cu­tion. A quar­tet of Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion that would man­date smart­phones come equipped with a “kill switch” that own­ers could ac­tiv­ate in the event their cel­lu­lar com­pan­ion is lost or stolen.

The switch, if flipped, would wipe per­son­al data from the phone and render it in­op­er­able, a fea­ture that the bill’s back­ers say would not only pro­tect con­sumer in­form­a­tion but also de­ter would-be thieves.

“Cell-phone theft has be­come a big busi­ness for thieves look­ing to cash in on these devices and any valu­able in­form­a­tion they con­tain, cost­ing con­sumers more than $30 bil­lion every year and en­dan­ger­ing count­less theft vic­tims,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Min­nesota Demo­crat and one of the meas­ure’s ori­gin­al spon­sors.

Ad­ded Bar­bara Mikul­ski of Mary­land: “Vic­tims of cell-phone theft should be able to fight back so they aren’t vic­tim­ized again through data and iden­tity theft. And thieves should know that whenev­er they steal a cell phone, they won’t be able to use it or sell it.” Con­necti­c­ut’s Richard Blu­menth­al and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono are also ori­gin­al co­spon­sors of the meas­ure.

The idea of a kill switch is not en­tirely nov­el, and some phones already boast such macabre func­tion­al­ity. Klobuchar called on the wire­less in­dustry late last year to im­pose tight­er safe­guards on phones. And last week, law­makers in Cali­for­nia in­tro­duced sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion, which would re­quire phones sold in or shipped to the state to have the an­ti­theft tech­no­logy be­gin­ning next year. If passed, Cali­for­nia’s law would be­come the first such state re­quire­ment in the coun­try.

Some wire­less com­pan­ies have warned that le­gis­la­tion like the Smart­phone Theft Pre­ven­tion Act could back­fire, however, and in­stead equip hack­ers with more tools to take down oth­er people’s phones.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, al­most one-third of all rob­ber­ies in­volved theft of a phone.

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