Kill switch garners industry support

An industry trade group plans to require the theft deterrent.

Blair Emerson

Beginning next summer, most new smartphones will be equipped with a theft deterrent.

The leading trade group for cellphone manufacturers announced Tuesday that companies will equip smartphones made after July 2015 with a “kill switch” that would clear the phone’s memory and render it useless, following legislative pushes from around the country.

Minnesota Student Association President Mike Schmit recently testified at the Capitol in support of a bill in the Minnesota Legislature that would require kill switches.

He said this technology would benefit students on the University of Minnesota campus because it could deter theft.

“I think the ultimate goal is the change of perception that thieves have about stealing from students,” Schmit said. “Right now we’re easy targets; we’re seen as big-money robberies.”

About one-third of robberies in the U.S. involve cellphone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a nonprofit that represents the wireless communications industry and announced the voluntary effort to implement kill switches, said in a press release that major smartphone manufacturers — including Apple, HTC, Google, Sprint and T-Mobile — have all agreed to the plan.

This agreement follows legislative pushes in some states, including California and New York, and a federal version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

The CTIA previously opposed kill switches because of the potential for phones to be disabled maliciously, preventing emergency calls.

Under the current plan, the phone’s authorized user would also have the ability to restore the phone’s data and functionality.

In Minnesota, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, authored a kill switch bill and said he’s pleased with the CTIA’s announcement. Now, he’s contemplating whether the industry agreement will be effective enough, or if legislation mandating kill switches still needs to be pushed.

“I think the agreement is a very positive step forward,” he said. “Whether or not it alleviates the need for passing the law, I guess I’m still visiting with some folks, like officials at the U and the city of Minneapolis and St. Paul … and the law enforcement community.”

Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder echoed support and said Minneapolis police backs kill switch bills at the state and national levels.

“The belief is that if we make the item being stolen not worth anything, then that should in fact drive down the demand for it,” he said.