Lawmakers in the House and Senate resurrected legislation yesterday that would require all smartphones sold in the U.S. to include apps or other technology to enable mobile service subscribers to wipe personal data off of stolen phones and to render such devices inoperable to anyone but the owner. 

The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, unveiled in the House by Rep. Jose Serrano (D‑NY) and sponsored in the Senate by four lawmakers that include Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), resembles a similar bill that was introduced last year by Klobuchar but died for lack of action.  Supported by various state and city attorneys general and by other key stakeholders from the law enforcement and public interest sectors, the proposed legislation follows on recommendations issued last December by a working group of the FCC Technological Advisory Council on measures to combat the growing problem of mobile phone theft.  The working group report urges the FCC to enact a “national framework for smartphone antitheft measures” that would be based on voluntary commitments agreed to last year by wireless association CTIA and its members.  Among other things, the working group also recommended (1) the development of methods to enable law enforcement agencies to obtain device identifiers from smartphones, (2) the establishment of a retailer code of practice to prevent trade in stolen smartphones, and (3) development of a CTIA-led task force that would define recommendations for consumer outreach. 

In addition to wiping personal data off of stolen smartphones and rendering them inoperable to thieves, the “kill switch” technology mandated by the bill must prevent stolen devices “from being reactivated on a network by anyone but the owner.”  Kill switch technology must also be offered free of charge to subscribers.  As Klobuchar predicted that the measure “will help deter cell phone thieves by ensuring that all consumers have access to the technology they need to keep their information private,” Mikulski proclaimed, “thieves should know that, whenever they steal a cell phone, they won’t be able to use it or sell it.”