No Cellphones

Image via Mike Kline

Governor Jerry Brown of California has signed an unprecedented law into effect: Every cellphone sold in California must have a kill-switch, allowing the phone to be remotely ‘bricked’ in the event of being stolen. State senator Mark Leno was very forthcoming. Via Time:

“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” Leno said in a statement. “Starting next year, all smartphones sold in California, and most likely every other state in the union, will come equipped with theft deterrent technology when they purchase new phones. Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”

Leno, a San Francisco–area Democrat, and other proponents of the kill switch have argued that if manufacturers are obliged to make these changes for the most populous state in the nation, they’re more likely to alter all devices, in anticipation of similar legislation in other states.”

Great. So something that was going to be voluntarily made available anyway for people who wanted it is now going to be required by law.

You may be asking what the difference is. The new law just cements the companies into fulfilling their private agreement, right?

Except that California especially has a history of deliberately sabotaging private citizens’ ability to network in times of crisis or unrest. It currently requires ham-handed policies like shutting down the wireless service when there’s a lot of coordination going on between protesters’ cell phones. Not so any longer.

A kill-switch that’s built into the phone by a corporation is something the corporation controls. You might give the command, but the follow-through is on Apple/Samsung/Nokia’s side. If they decide to throw that switch on their own, what can you do about it? Call and complain to the faceless corporation that’s in cahoots with the very government doing the kill-switching?

The key thing to remember is that this system was going to be made available to customers anyway, at no extra charge. By forcing its inclusion for all cellphones, they’re ensuring that no cellphone made available in the US is outside their reach.

And that’s dangerous.