April 16, 2014

After a year of hectoring from law enforcement officials and the threat of state and federal laws mandating security measures, mobile phone makers and mobile service providers have agreed to add an optional kill switch to smartphones.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless communications trade group, said on Tuesday that smartphones manufactured after July 2015 for sale in the US will include "a baseline anti-theft tool" that is either preloaded or can be downloaded. The voluntary agreement also stipulates that mobile carriers will support the availability and use of this tool.

The anti-theft software will be capable of: remotely wiping data from the device in the event of loss or theft; rendering the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users, except for emergency services calls and, if available, user-defined emergency phone numbers; preventing unauthorized reactivation "to the extent technologically feasible"; and restoring operability and user data if possible and desired by the authorized user.

Many smartphones already include or can accommodate software that performs similar functions. CTIA described its commitment as a baseline for the industry that will be available at no cost to mobile customers. The organization noted that participating companies may elect to offer features and apps that go further, like an audible alarm or the ability to activate a smartphone camera and transmit the captured image. An Apple patent application contemplates the possibility of an attack detection mode for a future smartphone that could automatically summon aid when activated.

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