Minnesota became the first state yesterday to introduce legislation that would require all cellphones sold to be fitted with anti-theft software known as a “kill switch.”
The software would allow owners to remotely disable and clear their stolen devices of personal information, something law enforcement agencies across the country have lobbied for.
Minnesota’s legislation, if passed, would make it that any phone manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, and sold or purchased within the state must be equipped with the technology or have the ability to download it.
The idea of the kill switch is nothing new. A number of manufacturers, including Samsung, Microsoft and Google, have features that allow a user to do that, although they are not set that way by default.
There are a few varieties of the kill switch and some discrepancies among them. A “hard” kill switch would render a stolen device permanently unusable and is favored by legislators who want to give stolen devices the value of a paperweight.
A “soft” kill switch makes a phone unusable only to an unauthorized user.
There are some who argue the only way to permanently disable a phone is to physically damage it, as experts worry hackers could find a way to hijack a kill signal and turn off phones. Also, if a phone is turned off or put into airplane mode, it might not receive the kill signal at all.
Similar legislation has been introduced in California and discussed in other states as well. Congress has also had a number of hearings on the matter.