Smartphone Kill Switch Law in Effect as of July 1

As of July 1, all new smartphones sold or shipped to consumers in California must include a “kill switch” device, pursuant to California Business and Professions Code section 22761. The new law, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in August of 2014, is aimed at deterring smart phone theft.
Phones sold on or after July 1, 2015 must include a mechanism for owners of smart phones to disable their device remotely, which would presumably occur after their phone is lost or stolen. Unlike an earlier law passed in Minnesota, the California law requires that the kill switch feature be active by default, rather than requiring phone owners to opt in to the feature. When a consumer completes the initial set up of a new device, the phone will prompt the consumer to enter data needed for the feature to function properly. Consumers do have an option to opt out of the feature if they prefer.
The “kill switch,” despite its common name, does not actually “kill” a smart phone, as phones rendered inoperable through the kill switch process can be restored. The law requires that the mechanism be reversible so that a phone’s operability can be restored if it is returned to its rightful owner. The law, however, does not require data stored on a device to be recoverable once its operability is restored.
While the new California law applies only to phones sold in California, its practical effects extend beyond the state’s borders. Rather than manufacture specific phones or software packages for California phones, smartphone companies have indicated that they will incorporate this technology in all of their phones, regardless of whether the individual units will be sold in California.