Senator Leno’s Smartphone Theft Legislation Passes Senate

May 08, 2014

SB 962 Requires All New Smartphones Sold in California to Come Pre-Equipped With Theft-Deterring Technology

SACRAMENTO – The California Senate today passed legislation that requires all smartphones sold in California to come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technological solutions to render the device useless if stolen. Senate Bill 962, authored by Senator Mark Leno and sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, addresses the growing epidemic of smartphone theft. It requires that all new devices sold in the state beginning next year have a theft-deterrent solution, also known as a kill switch, installed and activated. The measure, which passed with a 26-8 vote, is universally supported by statewide law enforcement groups, including the California District Attorneys Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Sheriffs Association.

“The theft and robbery of smartphones is the fastest growing crime in many cities across California because thieves have a financial incentive to steal and then resell these valuable devices on the black market,” said Sen. Leno, D-San Francisco. “We can end this crime of convenience and protect the safety of smartphone consumers by ensuring that every new phone sold in our state has theft-deterrent technology installed and enabled by default. Nothing less will solve the problem.”

Consumer Reports recently revealed that smartphone crime has doubled nationwide in the last year. About 3.1 million devices were stolen in 2013, up from 1.6 million in 2012. The epidemic is especially prevalent in some of California’s largest cities. More than 65 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.

"I commend the Senate for standing up to the wireless industry and taking this critical step to protect wireless consumers everywhere,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “We're one step closer to ending the violence and victimization that far too many people have been subjected to. California truly has an opportunity to lead the way and end this public safety crisis, the potential to end this global epidemic is very real.”

The wireless industry recently said it will “voluntarily” implement theft-deterrent technology on new phones starting in 2015, an inadequate solution because the technology would not be enabled on phones. Consumers would have to find, download and activate the solution themselves, leaving thieves an open door to continue to target all smartphone users.

“I applaud Apple and Microsoft for breaking rank and dropping their opposition to SB 962, ignoring the false claim that this technology is unworkable,” said Senator Leno.

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. In addition, the nation’s four largest wireless carriers make an estimated $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance products.

A new survey from Creighton University shows that consumers not only want theft-deterrent solutions on their phones, but they also expect it. Almost all smartphone owners believe they should have the option to disable a stolen phone and 83 percent believe such technology would reduce phone theft.

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 come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technology. Consumers would have the opportunity to opt-out of using this technology. Companies that fail to comply with the bill would be subject to penalty.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner is the principal co-author of SB 962. It is also co-authored by Senators Loni Hancock, Fran Pavley and Lois Wolk. The bill will be heard next in Assembly policy committees.