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Hasty ‘Kill Switch’ Legislation Has Flaws

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 3:57pm
Andrew Berg

The "Smartphone Theft Deterrent Act", a bill that would require OEMs to build 'kill switch' technology into tablets and smartphones, seems like an over-reach to me. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that the legislation would "help put consumers in control of their cell phone data" through a kill switch’, but it seems like the exact opposite is true. 

There are far too few specifics in this bill, namely how the technology would be implemented and who ultimately would have control over the kill switch. In this case, the government is asking to have technology included in mobile devices that could bhe hacked or abused in a number of ways. And yes, without sounding too paranoid, there's also the matter of allowing the government yet one more vulnerabilty in our already compromised private communication channels. If they're willing to snoop on our every email and text (re: The Snowden Files), who's to say they're above shutting down the mobile comminucations of a group demonstrators. 

The carriers have said they're already working on solutions to remotely wipe and kill a lost or stolen cell phone for their customers, but I think they're right that this is not something that should be mandated by legislation. 

Indeed, cell phone theft and the assaults that often occur as part of these crimes are deplorable and need to be stopped. However, the possible unintended consequences in requiring all phones sold in the United States to include kill switch type technology, are many. 

Perhaps the simplest reason for refraining from this type of legislation are the many solutions already available on the market that do essentially the same thing. Samsung and Apple have led the way in remote wipe features in their phones, and the wireless carriers are wide awake to the bad press associated with the epidemic of cell phone theft. 

The ability to actually "brick" a phone should be a voluntary, opt-in technology. It should be entirely managed and controlled by the owner the phone.

One Wireless Week reader, Timothy Regan, commented on a story about the kill switch legislation, suggesting that there must be a better way

“All carriers have DBs [databases] of active subscribers, allowing users to wipe data remotely (marking as Stolen/Clean) is a first step, and then preventing carriers from accepting "wiped" devices for new subscriptions and inquiring about wiped devices marked as stolen,” Regan wrote. “If the cell carriers would deal with this issue in a sensible manner we would not need Senators proposing over-reaching legislation than offers new dangers.”

I agree. Computers are also stolen on a regular basis, as are cars, but no one has proposed that automakers and PC manufacturers be required to include 'kill switch' technology in their products. If anything, lawmakers need to step back and let the technology experts think this one through and come up with more solutions that make sense and are perhaps more manageable and less intrusive than imposing legislation.

 

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