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Cellphones United States

Federal Smartphone Kill-Switch Legislation Proposed 173

Posted by samzenpus
from the shut-it-down dept.
alphadogg writes "Pressure on the cellphone industry to introduce technology that could disable stolen smartphones has intensified with the introduction of proposed federal legislation that would mandate such a system. Senate bill 2032, 'The Smartphone Prevention Act,' was introduced to the U.S. Senate this week by Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat. The bill promises technology that allows consumers to remotely wipe personal data from their smartphones and render them inoperable. But how that will be accomplished is currently unclear. The full text of the bill was not immediately available and the offices of Klobuchar and the bill's co-sponsors were all shut down Thursday due to snow in Washington, D.C."
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Federal Smartphone Kill-Switch Legislation Proposed

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  • The Safe Bet Here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @08:08PM (#46242175)
    This technology will be co-opted and otherwise downright available to the TLA government agencies.
    • by khasim (1285)

      This technology will be co-opted and otherwise downright available to the TLA government agencies.

      If I were working for one of those agencies I'd save myself the stress and just keep the personal phone numbers of the CEO's at the phone companies on my speed dial.

      When I wanted a phone "killed" I'd just call up the CEO of that phone company and have him have his people disable the phone plan for "non-payment" or whatever.

      Plausible deniability and the hardware still works.

      • "When I wanted a phone "killed" I'd just call up the CEO of that phone company and have him have his people disable the phone plan for "non-payment" or whatever."

        You've missed the point.

        It's not about having "a phone" killed. It's about the ability to have phoneS killed. Plural.

        • by khasim (1285)

          It's not about having "a phone" killed. It's about the ability to have phoneS killed. Plural.

          No. I intentionally decided against the paranoid option.

          What purpose would it serve for the NSA to brick a bunch of phoneS at one time?

          Other than making a very big, very public story? Which would get a LOT of airplay in the media.

          If the NSA needs service cut in a specific area they can already do that.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            The NSA could use it to kill communications when the uprising begins.
            • by mjwx (966435)

              The NSA could use it to kill communications when the uprising begins.

              Why would they need to target individual handsets?

              If an uprising gets to the point where you need to censor communications en mass they'll just switch off the towers.

              Identifying all the people in an uprising is extremely difficult and getting disposable burn phones is extremely easy... and when the govt can simply take over the underlying infrastructure both are entirely pointless.

              • Because there is still wifi and satalite phones that they cant as simply lock down by flipping a breaker at the nearest cell tower.

                • by mjwx (966435)

                  Because there is still wifi and satalite phones that they cant as simply lock down by flipping a breaker at the nearest cell tower.

                  Erm, WiFi isn't a WAN technology and satellite, just control the downlink station.

                  Again, why try to find out who's using their phone (which takes time and money, then depends on people that have trouble finding their own arse to wipe it) and just control the source.

              • Not to mention... isn't there a good chance they might be using much of the same infrastructure?

                • by swalve (1980968)
                  Exactly. The paranoid reasoning for this is that: turn off all the proletariat's phones, leaving the network intact for the privileged civil service to perform this functions.
          • Could be anything from insurrection, a terrorist attack, a plague, to a Christoph Dornier type manhunt. A hacker would certainly find it entertaining to disable their targets cell phones. remember the movie the Net, Enemy of the State, Swordfish, or a dozen others. The only person who should be able to disable a phone should be the owner of the phone, and law enforcement with the owners permission; or a court order identifying the specific phone to be disabled.

            • by AHuxley (892839)
              If you 'film' in the classical term - your digital recording can be removed and "lost" - then it becomes 'your word' vs the gov and a tame pro gov jury.
              With streaming your recording cannot be smashed, deleted, lost at the local physical level in a given time frame. You video exists on servers later to be uploaded by the individual, friends, supporters.
              The main issue law enforcement faces is the written report of an event has to be submitted and be ready for legal use, lawyers ... quickly.
              24 hours or 48h
          • What purpose would it serve for the NSA to brick a bunch of phoneS at one time?

            To stop a revolution?

            When asking yourself if any new power the government gains is good or bad, you need to think of more than just the immediate future. Instead think "If in 50 years or so, we elect the next Hitler to office, what's the worst he could do with this new power?"

            In 50 years that's entirely possible that we'd swing to some extreme that we'd make such a mistake... over 100 years it's twice as likely. 500? Countries are around for a very long time, and government NEVER gives up power. So when we

            • Given the 50 years ago, the height of technology was the just introduced "Touch Tone Phone", I am not expecting the mode of communication to resemble the current "Smart Phone"

              But yes, they can shut down the grid now, what this gives them is the ability to shut down specific groups... like say a political party on election day.

            • by swalve (1980968)
              That is silliness. You could use the same logic to say that the public shouldn't have the right to bear arms, because in 50 years, some future Hitler could confiscate all those guns. Not to mention that all dictator-types can circumvent any law they want, simply by disregarding it, or getting the people to happily demand the old law's repeal.
          • "What purpose would it serve for the NSA to brick a bunch of phoneS at one time?"

            Why do you assume it would have to be the NSA?

          • by Warhawke (1312723)

            It's not about having "a phone" killed. It's about the ability to have phoneS killed. Plural.

            No. I intentionally decided against the paranoid option.

            What purpose would it serve for the NSA to brick a bunch of phoneS at one time?

            Other than making a very big, very public story? Which would get a LOT of airplay in the media.

            If the NSA needs service cut in a specific area they can already do that.

            You mean like how the installation of clothes-penetrating image scanners wouldn't need to be implemented when dangerous objects can already be better detected by more conventional screens and selected pat-downs? It's for the same reason the U.S. has toyed with the idea of an Internet kill switch and a way to disable cars remotely: when one becomes addicted to power, the ends of power obtained justify the means of obtaining it.

            The federal government does not particularly care what temporary effect such meas

        • by EvilSS (557649)

          "When I wanted a phone "killed" I'd just call up the CEO of that phone company and have him have his people disable the phone plan for "non-payment" or whatever."

          You've missed the point. It's not about having "a phone" killed. It's about the ability to have phoneS killed. Plural.

          You think the government couldn't do that already? All they need to do is send a list of phone numbers (or account holder SSNs, or IMEIs, etc) and a scary national security letter and tell them to kill the accounts?. Boom. Done.

      • Heh heh.

        Thank goodness our people in government employ are often less crafty than that.

        If they were more competent, mass surveillance might still be a tin-hatter conspiracy theory.

    • It'll be hackers and the Chinese military that brick these American smartphones before the NSA does.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      This technology will be co-opted and otherwise downright available to the TLA government agencies.

      And what are the odds that it will only be a "kill" switch?

      I'm pretty sure it will end up being multipurpose for the purpose of enhancing surveillance and data collection.

      The most worrisome part of this is how the security and intelligence-gathering agencies are feeling bold enough to drop all pretense.

      Also, I am struck by how differently we react to these stories since the Edward Snowden revelations. Some of

  • by mhkohne (3854) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @08:09PM (#46242181) Homepage

    But if it really is called the 'Smartphone Prevention Act', that would pretty much say everything needed about this government, wouldn't it?

  • No Thanks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @08:09PM (#46242183)

    If I can brick my phone over the air, so can THEY, and I don't trust THEM.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      Most reasonably, bricking a device OTA would require using a code which is set by the user of the device when they first get it, and does not get reset simply by changing sim cards. When a person legitimately sells their phone or trades it in for an upgraded phone, they would have to clear that code first,,, and clearing it should in turn require that the current one be entered on the device first.

      Now obviously, this isn't going to stop a thief who is so desperate to steal your cell phone that he will t

      • Nope. The telecoms will have master keys since grannyw ill forget her code and the government will have backdoors to fuck your shit.
        Your error was in thinking that we'd get a reasonable implementation that focused on security.

        • by mark-t (151149)
          Which is why the first two words of my above post were carefully chosen: "Most reasonably,...."
    • by DeVilla (4563)
      I don't see why you have to bring THEM into it. What do THEY have to do with THEM? It's not like THEY work for THEM!
  • by DittoBox (978894) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @08:13PM (#46242207) Homepage

    Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Just like the remote kill switch that was proposed in cars. This is a solution looking for a problem, and more over it's a solution that's ripe for abuse.

    • by El Cubano (631386)

      This is just another example of the nanny state. If I want a phone with remote kill switch or wipe capability, I will buy one that has it, or one on which I can install an app that has the capability. They do exist. Making this capability mandatory is only going to increase the cost of phones.

      There are instances where such an increase in cost to the consumer is arguably warranted (e.g., seatbelts, airbags, etc.). But there is no public safety or public health argument here. It is strictly a matter of co

      • by JeffAtl (1737988)

        But there is no public safety or public health argument here. It is strictly a matter of convenience.

        Sure there is. Smartphone robberies are spiking crime rates. If thieves were aware that a stolen phone was useless then the crimes should go down.

        • by khasim (1285)

          Smartphone robberies are spiking crime rates. If thieves were aware that a stolen phone was useless then the crimes should go down.

          As seems to be the case in Australia where they are already doing this.

          http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/An-easy-way-to-curb-smart-phone-thieves-2344797.php [sfgate.com]

          • by mjwx (966435)

            Smartphone robberies are spiking crime rates. If thieves were aware that a stolen phone was useless then the crimes should go down.

            As seems to be the case in Australia where they are already doing this.

            http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/An-easy-way-to-curb-smart-phone-thieves-2344797.php [sfgate.com]

            Australian here, this doesn't work.

            Firstly because it's IMEI blocking on participating carriers. So all you need to do is sell the stolen phone overseas where the carriers don't give a fat rats clacker about the IMEI's Australia blocks. Secondly, you end up with unsuspecting people buying stolen phones with blocked IMEI's.
            1. Theif sells phone
            2. Purchaser doesn't know phone on Ebay (or Gumtree) is stolen
            3. Purchaser gets useless phone
            There's no shortage of idiots to fill the role in step 2.

            Carrier

        • Smartphone robberies are spiking crime rates.

          While that's certainly possible, the fact is that robbery rates are 40% of what they were 20 years ago.

          Which tends to suggest that smartphone robberies are getting a lot of publicity, but aren't really that big a deal.

        • It's really quite a bit like herd immunity.

    • by Mistakill (965922)

      Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Just like the remote kill switch that was proposed in cars. This is a solution looking for a problem, and more over it's a solution that's ripe for abuse.

      Exactly... if there's a switch, it will be exploited... just look at the encryption on Blu-ray or DVD's... or even some of the RSA encryptions... no matter how good the digital lock, it will be broken eventually...

    • by Tom (822)

      This is a solution looking for a problem

      Only if you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years and ignore that today, more people are held up and robbed for their mobile phone than for their cash.

  • As others have stated, this is exactly how Apple's iCloud lock works. If the owner of the device remotely locks it or it is factory reset through iTunes, it will be useless except for displaying a screen prompting for the owner's Apple ID and password. So far, all it has really accomplished is giving some extra headache to businesses that accept phone trade-ins and slightly lowering the value of lost/stolen iDevices on eBay [ebay.com]. We also already have a national IMEI blacklist, which mostly seems to have succeede

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      As others have stated, this is exactly how Apple's iCloud lock works.

      Android has this functionality as well. You do ostensibly have to activate it first, though. Or you can get it with an app if you want a different big brother than Google, via Cerberus.

  • Will this be activated by simply logging into someone else's, oops. I mean, _MY_ Apple/Google account and filling out a form? No reason why. Just wondering.

  • Do a blacklist instead. Phone on the blacklist? Don't allow it on the network (and call the cops). A kill switch invites abuse more than an industry blacklist might.
  • A not so smart Act to kill phones. That's how I interpret this.
  • Devil's Advocate (Score:5, Informative)

    by JonBoy47 (2813759) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @09:24PM (#46242619)

    It's spurred mostly by the fact that AT&T and T-Mobile have been sand-bagging, claiming GSM/SIM's don't allow for black-listing. The utility of Sprint and Verizon's blacklists is predicated on the "SIM" being integral to a CDMA phone; they can limit access to their networks to phones locked to their networks. The proliferation of phones containing GSM, CDMA and LTE hardware regardless of the carrier's network, opens the distinct possibility of a stolen phone being unlocked/jailbroken/rooted and re-used on a different carrier, rendering even Sprint and Verizon's blacklist useless.

    This law is looking to have all the carriers actually implement a lost/stolen black-list, and to further have communication between the carriers, so that a black-listed phone can't be re-used on anybody's network. This sounds like something that could (and should) be implemented in response to market forces. The proliferation of passive anti-theft systems in late model cars provides a good model. There's no legal requirement for car-makers to implement RFID-encoded key-fobs, yet they are nearly ubiquitous and have massively reduced theft of vehicles so equipped.

    • by Nethead (1563)

      This law is looking to have all the carriers actually implement a lost/stolen no-fly list..

      And with a simple typo your $500 phone is now just an MP3 player.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      It's spurred mostly by the fact that AT&T and T-Mobile have been sand-bagging, claiming GSM/SIM's don't allow for black-listing.

      This would naturally come as a great shock to the rest of the world which has a black-listing service and use GSM / SIM's.

    • by Tom (822)

      claiming GSM/SIM's don't allow for black-listing.

      Which is total bullshit because while they are technically correct about the SIM, every mobile phone has an IEMI number - the mobile phone equivalent to your MAC address, and blacklisting phones (the hardware, not the SIM) is common practice in many countries.

  • We really don't need another mechanism to prevent cell phone theft, we already have it. Each phone has a unique IMEI number associated with it. In most other countries if your phone is stolen, you report it and your carrier, along with all the other carriers, ban the IMEI number so the phone cannot be activated on any cellular network. This basically makes the phone useless.

    We could easily implement this in the US, but the cell phone carriers refuse to do it. If I had to guess, the reason they don't want to

    • by JonBoy47 (2813759)

      Not to mention but the stolen phone that's not black-listed could find itself re-activated on their network, and that's another customer gained or retained without having to subsidize their phone.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      the reason they don't want to do this is because if your phone gets stolen they get to sell you a brand new non-subsidized phone at full price, which makes them a lot of money.

      In that case: I suggest we have a law that says: Immediately after any carrier has been presented proper notice, that a phone with a certain IMEI has been stolen, that carrier shall become liable for 100 times the original retail price of that phone, in the event that the phone is used on their network more than 5 days af

    • by JeffAtl (1737988)

      That system doesn't work because there are too many carriers around the world that don't honor the IMEI blacklist.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well.

      you know what? european countries have such banlists on imeis.

      dunno why you need legislation for it. perhaps they want to obscure the fact that each cellphone sold in the west already has an unique code that can be tracked.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @11:16PM (#46243053)

    Why not laptops?
    Why not cars?
    Why not any of a thousand things that are stolen all the time.

    I wouldn't mind this as much in cars or laptops. I'm pretty sure I could disable it if I wanted. But in a smartphone? How?

    This whole thing gives me the creeps.

    • by JonBoy47 (2813759)

      Theft by mugging is People don't carry laptops around at nearly the same rate they do smartphones, so the theft by mugging isn't nearly as big a problem. When laptops get stolen it's typically because the owner was careless and left it unattended. Meanwhile violent muggings, where people's cell phones are stolen, is reaching epidemic proportions in major cities. In the 90's people got jacked for their Air Jordan's, now it's for their iPhones. And unlike many other commonly stolen items, this anti-theft capa

      • In regards to cars, should I bother showing you the videos on youtube of people beating those keys? Its old hat at this point.

        As to killswitches in the smartphone.... my only concern is that "I" am the only one able to trigger it.

        Not Apple.
        Not the phone company.
        Not the Federal government.

        My phone. If you set it up so that only "I" can kill it. I'm happy with it. If you're given that power to some external agency that didn't buy or pay for my phone then what right do they have to have that kind of power over

    • Why not laptops? Why not cars? Why not any of a thousand things that are stolen all the time.

      I wouldn't mind this as much in cars or laptops. I'm pretty sure I could disable it if I wanted. But in a smartphone? How?

      This whole thing gives me the creeps

      Smartphones are a tool of civil protest. The government can selectively "kill" Smartphones and effectively crush any rebellion. Ukraine and Iran have already demonstrated that power.

      The same can't be said about cars or laptops.

  • A bill to require mobile service providers and mobile device manufacturers to give consumers the ability to remotely delete data from mobile devices and render such devices inoperable [loc.gov]. I'm not sure where this shorter title that is traversing the internet is coming from, it was never a submitted title for the bill.
  • So there's a definite public safety problem going on, with people getting mugged for their phones and what-not. For the record, I think this concern is what's driving this legislation. But there's definitely room for the Big Brother Let's Stop the Flash-Mob-esque City Square Filling Demonstrations appeal to the Kill Switch, so the government shouldn't have any access to it. Hell, ideally the carriers shouldn't either. Make it something only the customer can initiate.

  • Rather than killing my phone, why not track the sucker so I can get it back? Leave "remote lock" and "remote kill" between me and my security provider (AVG anyone?).
    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      Won't work. The first thing the thief does is pull the SIM so your security provider can't contact/control the phone anymore. Then they do a hard reset and restore to factory defaults so it's no longer tied to your accounts and they have a blank phone to sell and you can't do a thing about it.

      The idea behind the mandatory kill-switch functionality is that it'd be cross-carrier and tied to the phone itself, not the SIM, so that the phone would brick itself as soon as it connected to any carrier's network any

  • by koinu (472851)
    The kill switch has its name, because now the mugger needs to kill the one who he stole the mobile phone from to make sure that he does not report it as stolen.
  • People start protesting their corporate government? Kill their phones. Permanently. How many of the rabble will protest if it costs them ~$200 a pop?
  • The ability to remote wipe a phone is not complicated. But ATT/Verizon/etc do not want to implement that feature since they make millions from selling us 'phone insurance products' to do these jobs at a premium.

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