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Wireless industry pushes back on smartphone 'kill switch'

  • Blog Post by: Abby Simons
  • February 27, 2014 - 11:57 AM

A bill requiring smartphones sold in Minnesota to carry “kill switch” technology that would render them useless if stolen received its first legislative scrutiny Thursday, along with pushback from wireless industry representatives who say such a response to theft could present risks to public safety.

Rep.  Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, defended his bill as “a foot on the gas pedal” to compel a reluctant industry to make their products less attractive—and profitable for thieves in the wake of the smartphone theft epidemic.

If all of them do what they should have some time ago, which is put in kill switches, then I don’t see any further need for legislation,” he said.

Atkins’ bill would require new smartphones purchased in Minnesota have the “kill switch” capability, which would mean that all saved data is erased and the phone is disabled, but can be reactivated with a passcode if recovered by the owner. The bill has received broad support from law enforcement including University of Minnesota police, who say robberies are up 27 percent over a five-year average, likely driven by smartphones and other electronics carried by college students.

But representatives of CTIA -The Wireless Association, which represents the wireless industry, say technical mandates like those in Atkins’ bill are overly broad and could undermine cybersecurity—a topic at the forefront in the wake of Target’s massive data breach.

“Fundamentally, the bill rests on a misunderstanding of wireless networks and devices,” said John Marinho, Vice President of Technology and Cybersecurity for CTIA.

Atkins’ fellow members of the House Labor, Workplace and Labor Industries Committee were split between support and skepticism.

“I kind of see this as someone asking auto dealers to put a kill switch on a car, but they don’t manufacture that car,” said Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell.

The bill was forwarded to the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.

© 2014 Star Tribune