Minnesota Lawmakers Consider Cellphone Kill-Switch Technology

Updated: 02/27/2014 3:05 PM
Created: 02/27/2014 11:40 AM
By: Naomi Pescovitz

From college campuses to Metro Transit trains, cellphone thefts are becoming more and more common. Just this week, Hennepin County teamed up with AT&T to try to reduce the problem.

Now the conversation has moved to the Minnesota State Capitol. By a voice vote on Thursday morning, a House committee passed a bill requiring "kill switches" on cellphones. The bill will go before at least two more committees before the House and Senate vote on the legislation.

"I call it an epidemic because it's growing and it's becoming more and more violent, causing more harm," said the bill's author, Rep. Joe Atkins (D).

Atkins says a kill switch would make the phone like a "brick" if stolen. All saved data would be erased. Only the owner could reactivate the phone.

"These devices are made to be held out in the open and spoken on. So what we need to do is make it so that the incentive is gone, that the value goes away. These devices can fetch upwards of $500 abroad. So if you make them worthless, you take away the incentive for thieves to steal them in the first place," Atkins said.

Nationwide, one in three robberies involves a cellphone. Around the University of Minnesota campus, the statistics double.

"Predators presume rightly that students are carrying valuable cellphones," U of M Police Chief Greg Hestness said.

If passed, the legislation would hold wireless service providers and smartphone manufacturers jointly liable for complying with the requirement.

"All the other options have been tried. They've tried a database, that didn't work, the Chinese aren't following any databases. They've tried public education and that only goes so far," Atkins said.

Opponents say government regulation will never keep up. To hackers, what is mandated today could be outdated by tomorrow.

"... Requiring a particular technology is counter to the policies that have made the wireless industry one of the most important and vibrant sectors of our economy," said Jamie Hastings, Vice President of CTIA - The Wireless Association, in a letter opposing kill-switch legislation.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced a federal kill-switch bill. Other states including California are considering similar laws.

Thursday's hearing was the first in the nation on kill-switch technology.

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