Smartphone Theft Prevention Act Clears First Committee Vote

April 1, 2014

Alex Bastian, (415) 553-1931
Maxwell Szabo, (415) 553-9089

Smartphone Theft Prevention Act Clears First Committee Vote

SACRAMENTO – Legislation that requires all smartphones and tablets sold in California to come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technology that will render stolen devices useless passed its first committee vote in the State Senate today. Senate Bill 962, authored by Senator Mark Leno, passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee with a 6-2 vote. The bill, sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, addresses the growing epidemic of smartphone theft. It requires that all new devices sold in the state on or after January 1, 2015 have a theft-deterrent solution installed. This technology is also known as a kill switch.

"I applaud the Senate for taking this critical step,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “Make no mistake, today was an important milestone in our effort to safeguard wireless consumers everywhere. This legislation has the potential to save thousands of Californians and millions of Americans from being victimized for their smartphone.”

The theft of smartphones and other communications devices now accounts for 30% to 40% of all robberies in major cities across the country. The epidemic is even more prevalent in some of California’s largest cities. More than 65 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve the theft of a mobile device, a number that goes up to 75 percent in the East Bay city of Oakland. Los Angeles also has a significant smartphone robbery problem, with reported thefts increasing 12 percent in 2012.

A new survey from Creighton University shows that consumers not only want theft-deterrent solutions on their phones, they also expect it. Almost all smartphone owners believe they should have the option to disable a stolen phone and 83 percent believe such technology would reduce phone theft.

“Smartphone robberies have become epidemic in cities across California, mainly because there is a financial incentive to steal and then resell these valuable devices on the black market,” said Sen. Leno, D-San Francisco. “Our proposal eliminates the financial motive behind this crime, which will help curb thefts and protect the safety of smartphone users. This is a crime of convenience. End the convenience. End the crime.”

According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012. One of those victims was Megan Boken, a recent college graduate from Illinois who tragically lost her life when two thieves attempted to steal her iPhone. Following her death, Megan’s father, Paul, whose family is originally from California, became a national advocate for the issue. Mr. Boken testified before the Senate Energy Committee today.

“Everyone should understand that what happened to my daughter could have happened to anyone,” said Paul Boken, who has traveled the nation calling for action to end the epidemic of smartphone theft. “Megan lost her life because people can sell stolen smartphones without any fear of getting caught. This legislation would shut down the market for stolen smartphones, which will end the victimization of innocent smartphone customers.”

Industry experts indicate that there are financial disincentives for both the manufacturers and carriers that may be preventing these technological solutions from being implemented. The replacement of lost and stolen smartphones and tablets is a $30 billion business in the U.S. In addition, the nation’s four largest wireless carriers make an estimated $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance products.

Under SB 962, major wireless companies and retailers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and Apple will be prohibited from selling smart phones in California unless they come pre-equipped with theft-deterring technology. Consumers would have the opportunity to opt-out of using this technology. Companies that fail to comply with the bill would be subject to penalty.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner is the principal co-author of SB 962. It is also co-authored by Senators Loni Hancock, Fran Pavley and Lois Wolk. The bill will be heard next on the Senate floor.