Minnesota’s new smartphone “kill switch” law takes effect on July 1, 2015. It requires that all smartphones sold in Minnesota come with a preinstalled kill switch or a free app which provides the same function. A similar law in California takes effect on the same date, but requires all phones come with the app preinstalled. Federal legislation has been proposed, but so far has not survived the legislative process in Washington, but why would they want to rush into something that would help the electorate. Nonetheless, with more states jumping on board, most carriers and manufacturers will be offering this as a standard feature everywhere.
And why not. With a kill switch enabled, if your phone is lost or stolen you can call your carrier or use their website to send a “kill” signal to your phone, which will lock the phone rendering it useless and valueless to the thief, and wipe all your personal data from the phone. The introduction of kill switch features on Apple phones has reduced the theft of those phones by significant percentages. This feature will not work if the thieves turn the phone off. One of the workarounds that the perpetrators are trying to use to defeat the kill switch is re-installing the phone operating system. This does have the effect of erasing all your personal data, so this is not an altogether bad thing.
The new Google Android Lollipop 5.1 OS comes with the kill switch feature baked in, and Apple iPhones have had a kill switch feature since iOS7. The new iPhone 6 versions come with it preinstalled. New Samsung phones have this feature. Older phones do have kill switch apps available for them, so it would be a good idea to set something up for your phones. Nevertheless, you will need to make sure your phone is registered online with your carrier to make sure the system is enabled.
The PC World article below does a great job of explaining what a kill switch is and how they work. The Money article explains how to turn this feature on, even on older phones. The USA Today article discusses how this feature has reduced smartphone theft. And the article on Sophos goes into the latest operating systems that are featuring this application.
My advice is to set up this protection for yourself as soon as you can. So take a quick look at the linked articles and then take action to protect yourself. There is just too much good personal information on most of our phones that an identity thief would find valuable. Setting up a kill switch will protect you from the worst outcomes in the event that your phone is stolen.