Senator Leno, S.F. District Attorney Gascón Unveil Details of Legislation Requiring Technological Solutions to Epidemic of Mobile Device Theft

February 07, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO – Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón joined other elected officials, law enforcement leaders and advocates today to announce details of legislation that addresses the growing epidemic of smartphone theft. Senate Bill 962 requires all smartphones and tablets sold in California to come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technological solutions enabled to render the device useless if stolen. Every new device sold in the state on or after January 1, 2015 must have the theft-deterrent solution, also known as a kill switch, installed.

“With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available,” said Sen. Leno, D-San Francisco. “Today we are officially stepping in and requiring the cell phone industry to take the necessary steps to curb violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses.”

The theft of smartphones and other communications devices now accounts for one third of all robberies in the nation, making it the number one property crime in the U.S. The epidemic is even more prevalent in some of California’s largest cities. More than 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve the theft of a mobile device, a number that goes up to 75 percent in the East Bay city of Oakland. Los Angeles also has a significant smartphone robbery problem, with reported thefts increasing 12 percent in 2012.

“This is an important day for wireless consumers everywhere,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions, and begin embracing the inevitability. The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers.”

According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012. One of those victims was Megan Boken, a recent college graduate from Illinois who tragically lost her life when two thieves attempted to steal her iPhone. Following her death, Megan’s father, Paul, whose family is originally from California, became a national advocate for the issue.

“The theft of a smartphone ended my daughter’s life, and forever changed mine,” said Paul Boken, who has traveled the nation calling for action to end the epidemic of smartphone theft. “This legislation will shut down the market for stolen smartphones, which will end the victimization of other innocent smartphone users and save lives.”

Industry experts indicate that there are financial disincentives for both the manufacturers and carriers that may be preventing these technological solutions from being implemented. The replacement of lost and stolen smartphones and tablets is a $30 billion business in the U.S. alone. In addition, the nation’s four largest wireless carriers make an estimated $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance products.

Under SB 962, major wireless companies and retailers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and Apple will be prohibited from selling smart phones in California unless they carry pre-enabled, theft-deterring technology. While consumers would have the opportunity to opt-out of using this technology, the bill also prohibits service providers from using wireless contracts to encourage consumers to disable the kill switch. Companies that fail to comply with these provisions would be subject to penalty.

SB 962 will be heard in Senate policy committees later this spring.

For media inquries, contact Ali Bay (Leno's office) at (916) 996-2702 or ali.bay@sen.ca.gov or Alex Bastian (Gascón's office) (415) 553-1931.