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With several states and municipalities considering various mandatory “kill-switch” laws for mobile devices, the wireless industry announced a voluntary commitment to include new anti-theft technology on phones starting next year.
The commitment, announced Tuesday, has the backing of the five largest U.S. cellular carriers as well as the key players in the smartphone device and operating system markets, a list that includes Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung.
Those signing the pledge agree that devices going on sale after July 2015 will have the ability to remotely wipe data and be rendered inoperable, if the user chooses, to prevent the device from being reactivated without the owner’s permission. Lost or stolen devices could later be restored if recovered. The carriers also agreed they would facilitate these measures.
Some device makers have acted on their own. Apple’s iOS 7, for example, has a feature called Activation Lock that, when users choose, prevents a stolen or lost device from being reactivated even if reset.
A number of state and local lawmakers praised the agreement, though it was panned as inadequate by California state Sen. Mark Leno, who has proposed a mandatory kill-switch law.
“The wireless industry today has taken an incremental yet inadequate step to address the epidemic of smartphone theft,” Leno said in a statement. “Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive. While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets.”
Leno noted that in order to have a deterrent effect on theft, the vast majority of consumers must have such kill-switch features on, or else such crime will continue to occur.
“While I am encouraged by the incremental progress, the wireless industry must commit to the whole solution, not just a piece of it, to protect their customers and make our streets safer,” Leno said.
Not surprisingly, CTIA President Steve Largent hailed the move as an example of the industry working with regulators and consumer groups.
“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen,” Largent said in a statement. “This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain. At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals.”