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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Smartphone Theft Bill Fails to Pass Senate (Update)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Update, 2:34 p.m.: State Senator Mark Leno discusses the vote with SF Weekly.


A bill requiring tech companies to install mandatory kill-switches in smartphones and tablets -- which would disable the devices if they are stolen -- fell two votes shy of passing in the Senate today.

State Senator Mark Leno and District Attorney George Gascon say they may try resurrecting the bill later. Smartphone theft doubled nationwide in the past year, which lends credence to Leno and Gascon's claim that it's a global epidemic.

See also: Smartphone theft is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Today's 19-17 vote shows that many legislators are still wary of laws that would regulate tech companies. But it also speaks to the lobbying power of these companies, and of the carriers that contract with them. Both sides of the industry crusaded heavily against Leno's kill-switch bill, arguing that anti-theft devices make users more vulnerable to hackers, and also open the door for government surveillance.

Playing off our paranoia about privacy and security, the CTIA argued that kill-switches should be voluntary, not standardized. The trade group drafted a "voluntary pledge" for tech companies and carriers to sign, promising to offer no-cost, reversible kill-switches to customers by July, 2015. Apple, Samsung, AT&T, and other interested parties all jumped on board.

Leno and Gascon found that alternative deeply dissatisfying. In press statements released after the Senate vote today, they both expressed regret that the bill had foundered, and that the scourge of theft will continue. However, they remain hopeful that legislators will revisit the issue -- perhaps under pressure from the public.

The CTIA released its own statement this afternoon saying it appreciates the vote.

Update, 2:34 p.m.: In a phone interview with the Weekly, Senator Mark Leno said he'd expected "yes" votes from a couple more colleagues, which suggests some of them changed their minds. That bodes well for next week, when the bill is taken up on reconsideration, he says.

"Round 1 went to the industry," he says, expressing little surprise that the most powerful corporations on earth exercise lobbying muscle at the state Capital -- Leno says he's heard, third-hand, that Industry lobbyists in Sacramento brag they've never lost a floor vote.

Still, he hopes Round 2 will go to law enforcement.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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