Curbing Cellphone Theft With “Kill Switch”

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Now filed in the House of Representatives is HB No. 4511 or “An Act Requiring All Cellphone Network Service Providers to Equip All Mobile Phones They Provide to Postpaid Users With a ‘Kill-Switch’ Software to Enhance Security and Privacy of Their Customers” authored by party-list Rep. Lorna Q. Velasco. Aside from protecting the privacy of postpaid subscribers, the author said that her bill when enacted into law will effectively weaken, if not eliminate completely, the black market of stolen cell phones which in turn will lead to a reduction in crimes related to mobile phones.

In the proposed law, the “kill switch” when installed will allow cellular phone companies to remotely and permanently disable the cellphone and erase all data and private information in the unit reported to be stolen. The software when triggered by the telcos should make the cellphone unusable; hence, it cannot be sold anymore in the second-hand black market selling stolen units. It is hoped then that cellphone theft which endangers a victim’s physical safety will be less prevalent than it is now without the law.

I cannot find an online copy of the proposed law to see how it intends to implement its provisions that would result to making a stolen cellphone unusable. Based on the information available in the Internet about “kill switch” technology, there are already available apps that a cellphone owner could use to delete the data stored in his unit when it is stolen. Android phone owners can install Wheres My Droid free app which can help you find your unit and remotely wipe all the data you have in its memory while iPhone users can use Find My iPhone for the same purpose.

The above-mentioned apps can be used by smartphone owners to delete the data installed in their units but cannot make their stolen units unusable. The apps will only do factory reset and delete data stored in both internal and external memories of stolen cellphones. The proposed law requires that a software must really “kill” the unit and only the telcos can do it. I do not know exactly if such kind of technology is already available and if it is, can’t there be no technology that could revive the “killed” units in the future?

Will the use of “kill switch” really curb or thwart cellphone thefts? Take note that because it will require the implementation by the telcos, only the postpaid cellphones issued by them will be covered by the technology. That would leave the smartphones on prepaid accounts to be still saleable when stolen. At best, the “kill switch” law will only lessen the stolen units being sold in the second-hand black market of cellphones.

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