State Assembly Passes Leno's Kill-Switch Bill (Update)

Update, Thursday, Aug. 7, 10:12 a.m.: The state assembly passed Mark Leno's kill-switch bill this morning. It will return to the Senate for a concurrence vote before heading to Governor Brown's desk.

Bolstered by a new Creighton University study showing that anti-theft software could save smartphone users an estimated $3.4 billion a year, Senator Mark Leno's kill-switch bill might be inches away from becoming law.

The state assembly is expected to vote on the bill this Thursday. If it passes and gets signed by the governor, California will be the second state to require built-in kill-switches — technology that disables a phone after it's pilfered. Minnesota passed a kill-switch law in May.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing. An earlier iteration of Leno's Senate Bill 962 foundered in the Senate, facing opposition from Republicans, as well as Democrats serving parts of Silicon Valley and southern California.  (Senators Beall,  Cannella, Correa, Fuller, Galgiani, Hernandez, Knight, Lara,  Nielsen, and Torres would later change their tune.)

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) was vigorously lobbying to kill it, as were Apple, Samsung, and Verizon. Steadfast opponent AT&T hosted a golf-themed schmooze-fest for state legislators the week before SB 962 went up for reconsideration.  Small retailers also voiced concern, wondering if they'd be penalized for selling kill-switch-bereft phones that wound up in their inventory.

[jump] But the tide turned after Leno made minor technical changes to the bill's language, leading Apple and Microsoft to withdraw their opposition. Media investigations and increased pressure from law enforcement steered public opinion to Leno's side, and study after study concluded that consumers were being hung out to dry. Companies like AT&T harvest an estimate $30 billion annually from purloined gadgets, so they have little reason to help curb the burgeoning underground market.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has long campaigned for kill-switches, says that so-called “Apple-picking” accounts for about two-thirds of all robberies in this city — few of them ever get prosecuted. That could all change imminently.

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