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California bill to require a 'kill switch' on phones fails in state senate

California bill to require a 'kill switch' on phones fails in state senate

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A California bill that would require anti-theft measures to be included in smartphones, failed to pass today after a vote fell two Senate members short of its minimum. Senate bill 962 — which was introduced in February by Senator Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat — asked for any "advanced mobile communications device," sold in the state next year to have hardware or software features to let owners render the devices useless when stolen. The "kill switch" bill needed 21 votes to pass, but received just 19, with 17 nay votes, and one senator who did not vote earlier today, reports CNET.

Remote wipe would be a standard feature

The vote comes just a week after nearly every major player in the phone industry pledged to make their smartphones harder to steal. Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, along with the five major US cell carriers, agreed on plans to offer customers a way to remotely wipe or make inoperable their devices beginning July 2015. Senator Leno, who was joined by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón in pushing the legislation, said those measures were welcomed but "incremental."

Along with the California bill, a separate piece of legislation introduced in Congress in February called the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, asks for both carriers and device manufacturers to provide options to remotely wipe the phone, or render it useless if stolen. However that bill is in committee, and still needs to go through the House, Senate, and the President.

More phones, more theft

Both measures come amid heightened theft rates of smartphones. Half of robberies in San Francisco last year involved smartphones, while that figure came in at 20 percent or robberies in New York, according to data from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Nationally, the figure is one in three robberies, and $30 billion a year out of the pockets of consumers, says a now two-year-old study by the Federal Communications Commission. Some smartphone, and software makers have already put into place measures to protect smartphones as a result. Apple introduced remote lock and location as a premium feature in mid-2010, and has since made it free alongside additional features like activation lock. Google followed suit last September, adding remote lock and password reset features to Android Device manager.