By Don Thompson
SACRAMENTO — On a second attempt, California lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would require electronics manufacturers to install a shut-off function in all smartphones as a way to deter what one senator called a crime wave of thefts.
The legislation by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requires companies to produce smartphones with technology that makes them inoperable if the owner loses possession.
It fell two votes short of passing the 40-member Senate two weeks ago, but Leno said amendments since then removed opposition from Apple and Microsoft. It now applies to smartphones manufactured and sold after July 2015 and no longer includes tablets.
The wireless industry still opposes the measure as unnecessary.
“We have a crime wave sweeping our state,” Leno said in urging support for his bill. He said two of three robberies in San Francisco now include the theft of a smartphone, and one of four robberies in Oakland.
“These crimes are up at double-digit rates,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our constituents safe on the streets.”
Leno’s bill, SB962, passed the Senate on a 26-8 vote, and now goes to the Assembly. Leno said more amendments will be considered there, including several offered by Apple this week.
The Senate voted two days after San Francisco Supervisor London Breed proposed legislation that would require smartphones and other mobile devices sold in the city to be equipped with a “kill switch” to render them inoperable if they’re lost or stolen.
State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, noted recent reports that some smartphone owners are endangering themselves by using phones’ tracking software to confront thieves to retrieve their phones.
Several lawmakers of both political parties expressed concern that fines of $500 to $2,500 for selling phones that don’t include kill switches could unfairly penalize retailers. Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, voted for the bill, but he and several Republicans argued that those who didn’t manufacture the phones or install the software should not be held liable if the phones don’t include the required kill switch.
“These are good citizens in the business world,” Correa said.
Leno said state law requires that fines could be issued only for “unlawful, unfair, fraudulent conduct,” but agreed to consider adding specific language to the bill that fines could be imposed only if there is malicious intent.
Jamie Hastings, vice president for external and state affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement that the industry has already taken significant steps to protect consumers, including voluntarily including such software on phones nationwide starting next year. The industry objects to having confusing state-by-state laws.
Leno said the voluntary action isn’t enough because owners would have to find and activate the software. His bill requires that a kill switch be included as the default setting.