A new law that was signed into effect on Monday requires all smartphones manufactured after 1 July 2015 and sold within California to include a kill switch. This will allow users to remotely lock their phones and delete all data if they are stolen or lost.
Although the legal reach of the new law does not extend beyond California’s borders, the kill switch feature will likely be adopted by phone manufacturers on handsets sold across the world due to the inefficiency of manufacturing phones exclusively for California.
The law requires the use of a system that will automatically lock a handset and render it useless when triggered by an authorised user. The system must be installed in new smartphones and must be able to withstand attempts by thieves to reinstall the operating system. However, users can deactivate it if they want to.
Under section 7908 of the California Public Utilities Code, the tool can also be used by the police to cut off phone service in specified situations. Typically, this will require a court order, except in emergency cases where there is “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”
The law does not specify how the system will lock the smartphone or what will happen to the data once it is locked, allowing each manufacturer to create their own system.
The legislation comes after the state’s law enforcement community pressured phone manufacturers to do something about the growing numbers of smartphone thefts in the state.
“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” said California State Senator Mark Leno, who sponsored the legislation.
“Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”