This week the California legislature passed a bill that requires all smartphones to include a “kill switch” that can remotely render the device inoperable. Although created to deter smartphone theft, this kill switch mandate could actually become a nefarious tool co-opted by government to suppress protests. Kill switch mandates suffer a variety of flaws that CDT has discussed previously. However, the California bill is especially troubling on the issue of police using the feature to shut down phones. The legislation states that government agents may use the kill switch so long as their activities comply with Section 7908 of the Public Utilities Code. This law allows governments to disrupt communications under certain guidelines with judicial authorization, but also includes an “emergency” exception that requires no independent approval.
Police could use the kill switch to shut down all phones in a situation they unilaterally perceive as presenting an imminent risk of danger.This means that police could use the kill switch to shut down all phones in a situation they unilaterally perceive as presenting an imminent risk of danger. It’s not hard to imagine law enforcement putting such a label on a protest: Managers of the BART subway system shut down cell service in four stations just prior to planned anti-police demonstrations in 2011, claiming the disruptive measure was justified by public safety concerns. via PopularResistance.Org.