SB-962 was signed into law on Monday by California Governor Jerry Brown. The bill, introduced in the State Senate earlier this year, was strongly supported by George Gascón, San Francisco's district attorney.
Smartphones that are manufactured after July 2015 will be required to have a kill switch installed to deactivate the phone if it's stolen. A huge amount of street crime, including muggings and robberies, is due to the ease with which smartphones can be resold for quick cash.
Manufacturers are required to have the anti-theft provisions activated by default. According to The New York Times, 2,400 cell phones were reported stolen in San Francisco in 2013, up 23% from the year before, with other major cities reporting similar increases.
Last year in iOS 7, Apple unveiled a new feature called Activation Lock that requires a user's Apple ID password to be entered before a device can be erased and reactivated, signed out of iCloud, or disable Find My iPhone — Apple's service to locate, lock, and remotely erase lost devices.
In the past year, several law enforcement agencies have said iPhone robberies have dropped significantly following the release of iOS 7 with Activation Lock, falling by 38% in San Francisco, and more than 20% in London and New York City.
The success of Activation Lock likely contributed to the push by California to require kill switches on all smartphones. There's also a federal bill — the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act — that was introduced in the House, but it hasn't been considered by a Committee and has a very low chance of being passed this session. However, given the size of the Californian smartphone market, it's likely that all manufacturers and mobile operating system designers will build compatible kill switch systems to sell devices legally in the state.
Also, the CTIA, the mobile industry's trade organization, has a voluntary agreement between members to offer kill switch features to devices first manufactured after July 2015. Committed companies include Apple, AT&T, Google, HTC, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
It's a non-binding commitment, but it shows that both carriers and cell phone manufacturers are interested in reducing cellular device theft. San Francisco district attorney George Cascón said that cellphone owners in California will be able to "breathe a sigh of relief" because stealing a smartphone "won't be worth the trouble."
For iPhone and iPad users, Activation Lock is turned on by default during the initial activation sequence on devices using iOS 7.
Are you pleased with the new California regulations or would you have left it up to the telecom industry to voluntarily roll out "kill switch" technology like Apple did with Activation Lock? Let us know in the comments below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.