I still think a mandatory kill switch is a bad idea

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: February 8, 2014

Yesterday, politicians and law enforcement officials in California introduced a bill that would make it mandatory for all electronics within the state of California to be equipped with a mandatory "kill switch", which would render the device useless if stolen by thieves. The hope for this bill, if it passes, is to reduce the amount of theft of smartphones and tablets. Particularly, they're trying to avoid the ones that end up involving violence as a result.

My stance on mandatory kill switches hasn't changed, really. I do understand that smartphones have lately become a prime target in robberies and muggings, especially because of how popular the more pricey gadgets have become. A lot of people seem baffled because "Why would anybody want to steal a $200 iPhone?" when really, they just don't realize that the iPhone they got for $200 really costs somewhere in the ballpark of $600. Of course, in the end it doesn't matter; the point is that stealing is wrong, and the fact that thieves are getting violent over it is becoming a real problem.

But in my opinion, a mandatory kill switch won't do anything productive. Not only that, but I do believe that installing these kill switches will only cause more problems rather than do good. People aren't going to stop trying to steal phones just because a kill switch is installed. Hackers are going to get involved, somebody is going to crack a code, and lest we forget that kill switch or not, these smartphones still have very usable parts that can be harvested for cash anyway. In short, the first problem is that a kill switch isn't going to stop anybody from stealing phones. It's really not.

The problems won't stop there. Having a kill switch installed in a phone, at least to me, wouldn't make me feel any safer than not having it. If anything it makes me feel more paranoid. With the recent security issues surfacing across multiple parts of the world, knowing that some big wig company would have the ability to shut off my phone at any point in time. I'm not saying that they would shut it off without me asking, but I am saying it is a very plausible situation if kill switches were installed.

Then you have the issue that having the kill switch activated after your phone has been stolen kills any hope of having the phone returned to you at all. You can't locate your phone if it won't turn on or activate. You at least have the option of doing that now, which probably comes in handy when you think you've had your phone stolen. However, after showing up in the same location for 3 days straight, you realized you just lost your phone and you can safely go back to where it shows up and retrieve it. If you reported it stolen at this point, it's been deactivated, but you can still ping the location. You get it back, you get it reactivated, and bam. All is good. With a kill switch in place? You call in to your provider, report it stolen, and just like that:

You can kiss your sweet smartphone goodbye. Lost or stolen, you're probably not going to get it back. 

Now, if you use location services to find your lost phone and you find out that it was stolen, I don't recommend going to find it and fight (potentially to your death) over your phone. I wouldn't recommend that at all. But either way, with a kill switch you lose whatever little chance you do have at finding your phone. 

And what about bugging out? Technology is infamous for bugging out across the board, and I imagine a kill switch isn't going to be any less susceptible to bugging out than any other technology in existence. I could think of more than a few people who would be rather angry if their phone was somehow kill switched without any prompt whatsoever.

In the end, I really hope people don't let this bill pass. In a perfect world, I think it could do some good, but the way things are right now I don't feel like installing a kill switch is going to be the solution they're hoping for. If anything else, there's potential for more problems than anything else.

What are your thoughts, readers? Do you think cell phones need a kill switch, or do you think that there are going to be problems whether there is a kill switch or not? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Image via Business Insider