Smartphone kill switch -- an evil theft deterrent

On June 13, 2013,  a coalition of law enforcement, consumer groups and political leaders named “S.O.S” (Secure Our Smartphones), called for a “kill switch” to be installed in every smartphone. The concept of this kill switch is simple -- when a smartphone is stolen, the owner can have the device permanently disabled. Approximately 1.6 million people in the USA had a mobile device stolen in 2012 and a third of all robberies involves a stolen cell phone -- it is a serious problem. The hope is that overall smartphone theft would be reduced as a disabled device would be worthless.

While the concept makes sense from a law enforcement standpoint, the possibility of misuse and abuse is astronomical and threatens our liberty and freedoms. Once the kill switch is built into these devices, we lose a certain level of autonomy. There will be the potential for a government agency (domestic or foreign), corporation or hackers to disable our devices by using this kill switch for evil purposes. In other words: who will control the kill switch?

Apple recently announced that it had voluntarily implemented a variation of this kill switch under the name “Activation Lock”. However, Apple is also allegedly participating in the PRISM program. Could Apple disable certain devices at the urging of the US Government? Before you think this can’t happen, please remember that just this year, the IRS was discovered to be targeting groups based on their beliefs -- you can be targeted for things you say and do. The kill switch on your smartphone could potentially be triggered for simply liking the wrong political candidate on Facebook or challenging the status quo on Twitter.

Abuse aside, there is currently a huge demand for smartphone repair services. A stolen smartphone will still have value even after the kill switch is triggered -- for its parts. Thieves will still target these devices for the pricey touch-screens, batteries and other internal parts. Sure, a disabled smartphone will have less value but it will still have value. Where there is value, there is theft.

The kill switch will also seriously impact the legal resale of used smartphones. Whenever a user wants to sell a device on eBay or Craigslist, the buyer will always be suspicious that the seller is selling a disabled device. And so, prices for used devices will artificially be lowered -- negatively affecting the legal seller and his investment in his smartphone. In theory, it could destroy the used smartphone market altogether.

An old proverb is "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". I don’t doubt the good intentions of the Secure Our Smartphones group. However, I do think kill switches are a road to smartphone hell.

Do you agree? Tell me in the comments.

Photo Credit: cobalt88/Shutterstock

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