Tuesday, February 11, 2014
New Bill Would Mandate ‘Kill Switch’ For Smartphones
A bill has been introduced in California that would mandate a kill switch for cellphones that have been stolen, prompting concerns that such a system could be abused by authorities in order to stifle dissent.
SB 962 would require that all cellphones sold in the state include software or hardware, “that can render inoperable the essential features of the device, as defined, when the device is not in the possession of the rightful owner.”
Although the owner would have the option to disable the function under the language of the bill, sales of any cellphone that didn’t include the technology would be prohibited.
“California is the largest state in the US, and its laws have in the past become de facto national laws,” notes Joe Mullin, adding that wireless industry trade groups have opposed such measures in the past.
Although the ‘kill switch’ would ostensibly be included to discourage theft, a scenario where authorities could hijack the technology to shut down communications in a sensitive area in order to limit photo and streaming video coverage, such as at a demonstration or at the scene of unfolding police brutality, is easy to envisage.
Last month we reported on a Google patent for a system that would alert law enforcement authorities if a number of photos were taken in one specific location by smartphone users, raising questions as to what level of remote access companies like Google should have to people’s personal devices.
Back in 2012, Apple also filed a patent allowing it to wirelessly disable cameras on iPhones by “forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.”
Protests, political gatherings and other events at which authorities wish to prevent communication, documentation or video streaming could be turned into dead zones by creating a “geofence” around designated locations.
The patent was registered in anticipation of giving police or government the power to impose a “blackout” on all communications during certain times because cellphones can “annoy, frustrate, and even threaten people in sensitive venues.”