Officials in California have announced proposed legislation requiring smartphones to have a built-in "kill switch" to render stolen or lost devices inoperable.
State Sen. Mark Leno, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and others said Friday the bill would require mobile devices sold in or shipped to California to have the anti-theft devices starting next year.
Leno and Gascon say the anti-theft measure, which Leno plans to introduce this spring, could deter thieves from stealing smartphones. They believe the bill would be the first of its kind in the United States.
The wireless industry says a kill switch could allow hackers to disable phones belonging to individuals along with government and law enforcement agencies.
A San Francisco Democrat, Leno joins Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement officials who have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.
"With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available," Leno said in a statement. "We are officially stepping in and requiring the cellphone 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 CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.
The CTIA has been working with the FCC, law enforcement agencies and elected officials on a national stolen phone database that started running in November.
Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices - mostly smartphones - cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, according to an FCC study.
In San Francisco alone, more than 50 percent of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile device, the San Francisco District Attorney's office said. Across the bay in Oakland, such thefts amount to about 75 percent of robberies, authorities say.
"This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions, and begin embracing the inevitability," Gascon said in a statement. "The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers."
Last year Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, proposed installing a kill switch in its devices. But the company told Gascon's office the biggest U.S. carriers rejected the idea.
Gascon and Schneiderman have given manufacturers a June 2014 deadline to come up with solutions to curb the theft of stolen smartphones.