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California “Kill Switch” Bill Could Be Used to Disrupt Protests (cdt.org)
133 points by conorgil145 342 days ago | 134 comments



Hi all; original author of this blog post, happy to see it getting so much feedback. I think it's important to highlight the risks in and out of state:

The bill says that police CAN use this mandatory kill switch, but must comply with Public Utility Code Section 7908 in doing so; that law generally requires police to get a warrant before shutting down cell service, but has an "emergency" exception where court approval is not required. I worry police could abuse this, using risk of violence as a pretense to shut down a protest as CA police did during the BART subway shutdown in 2011.

A more broad risk is that because CA is such a large market, manufacturers/providers will likely deploy this mandatory kill switch nationally, so it could end up being used in other states (such as during protests in Ferguson, Missouri)that may have absolutely no restrictions on government use of a kill switch.

Unfortunately the bill is very far along so there is not much left that can be done, but I would recommend discussing the issue on social media, and, as @javajosh suggests, contacting Governor Brown's office to express concerns and recommend a veto. The bill was passed on August 12 so he must sign or veto it by August 24.

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Yes, the bill has an emergency exception, but you omitted to mention that it still requires police to go to court afterwards (within 6 hours, or with additional submissions to justify the delay if that is not possible) to make a showing of why a communications interruption was necessary, and requires the court to balance police claims with First Amendment freedoms, strictly limiting the scope of acceptable reasons and requiring the purpose of the interruption be as narrowly tailored as possibly.

I don't understand why you left all this out of the original story.

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Because prior judicial approval is the key check to preventing government abuse; if police want to shut down a protest a judge potentially telling them they went too far 6 hours later is not going to help.

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And they're supposed to get prior judicial approval. It's only acceptable to file retroactively in cases where there is an imminent risk of death or great bodily harm, such as a hostage or barricade situation or other 'extreme emergency situation.'

You're assuming the worst possible outcome (police overreach, court apathy) and using that as a justification to omit any mention of the copious rules limiting official use of this power. I find it rather ironic that you decided to leave your readers poorly informed about this, not least because it would put them at a disadvantage in any argument with a supporter of the bill.

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The problem is that "imminent risk" tends to creep downward over time, to the point that it becomes "imminent risk that a citizen unit will improperly fail to bow and scrape."

If you're going to shut off several thousand cell phones, you can bloody well get a judge out of bed for that.

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Perhaps, but I don't think it's fair to judge this bill on how legislators might amend it in future, or we'll never pass any laws at all.

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Laws have unintended consequences. It's good to slow down the creation of laws and weigh tradeoffs. Laws are intended to be solutions. But the cure may prove worse than the disease.

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Can we judge it on how the police interpret these things now?

For example, the police are only supposed to shoot people when there's imminent risk of death or great bodily harm. Yet there is routine, if not common, overreach there, including one notorious recent incident that people are currently protesting with great vigor.

If you can't reliably enforce the rule that police aren't supposed to kill people except in dire emergencies, how will you do it for cell phone kill switches?

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The only safe way to analyse the risk is to assume the worst case scenario. The Ferguson police are the worst case scenario: to quell a protest they deploy violence, then complain when the protest becomes violent.

As a result of this, the police will feel justified claiming "imminent risk of death or great bodily harm" any time two or more #insert <target_demographic.h> are together in one place.

Then you just do this often enough that the judges don't have time to review every case.

Don't dismiss as ridiculous what is simply an extrapolation from current practise.

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That may be true, but it should still be mentioned in the article in the interests of a fully informed electorate.

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What is the response if the court rules that the shutdown was unwarranted after the fact?

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Everyone whose cell phone service was interrupted has a good basis for civil rights lawsuit against the offending police department, for one thing.

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A civil rights lawsuit is fine. But the problem is that doesn't PREVENT any police behavior.

1. hit the kill switch

2. tell protesters to GTFO

3. they don't comply so start shooting

4. no recordings of what happened are made so it's he said she said

5. innocent people are dead and the only recourse is a lawsuit based on conflicting sworn testimony where officers are generally held to be more reliable than non-officers

Contrast this with the no-kill-switch situation

1. tell protesters to GTFO

2. they don't comply and are filming

3. knowing they are filming, use less lethal means of dispersal

4. nobody is dead and the police are held accountable for the actions they took

The problem here is that in the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary the 6hr window gives the police plenty of time to either find a good reason for why they did what they did or if there's some particularly bad actors around, make up a good reason.

I think the vast majority of police departments wouldn't abuse their power especially considering how very nearly everybody doesn't get shot by the cops on any given day. But the concern here isn't that they'll shut down people's phones when making a traffic stop; people are concerned about the possibility of really bad actors who haven't been caught yet using this as a tool to conceal something really bad.

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The "essential feature" that are disabled under this bill do not include the camera (or emergency calls).

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Being able to take pictures or video but not upload them destroys a lot of the utility of a mobile device.

If you can't take a picture and upload it before you get arrested then whatever was on your phone can go away. But once it's uploaded it gets much, much harder to make it disappear.

I will concede that it's not as bad since the camera still works. But that doesn't make all my worries go away either.

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Then don't enable this feature on your phone. The law also requires that the feature be explicitly approved by the user and that it can be disabled by the user at any time.

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How would the police know whose phones to do this to? The kill switch is on a phone by phone basis.

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They have a thing called a stingray which can impersonate a real cell tower for the purpose of gaining information about the phones in range. That would be a very effective way to create a list of phones to temporarily disable.

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That would not be very effective for the kind of cover up you were speculating about (disabling phones so they can shoot protestors without it being widely recorded on video).

First, they'd have to set up a Stingray. Then they'd have to get the phone numbers. Then for each number, they have to go to the appropriate company and ask that company to do the kill. Note this only works for smartphones. Feature phones are not required to support a kill switch. There are feature phones that include still and video cameras.

That's going to take a while...and it is going to miss a lot of people in addition to those using feature phones. It will also miss tablets, laptops, and GoPro cameras.

If, improbably, the only people with cameras in the protest are people on smartphones, they still have almost no chance of making the coverup work. To get the kill switch applied without court approval, they have to claim it was an emergency, and then justify retroactively that shutting down phone communication was necessary because of that emergency.

They will not be able to do this, since it is almost impossible to come up with a legitimate emergency situation where using the slow and incomplete kill switch mechanism is better than simply shutting down the cell towers that serve the area. Going for the kill switch instead of shutting down the towers is practically admitting that they were not actually trying to stop communication (which could conceivably be a legitimate response to some kinds of emergency) but rather were trying to stop cameras (which almost never can be a legitimate response to the kind of emergency that can arise at a protest).

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1. Setting up a stingray takes very little time if it's already mounted on a truck or a trailer.

2. Phones and towers are constantly looking for one another so that phones are always connected. This is how you are able to talk while driving or moving. You might get all the phones in an area in a few seconds or minutes.

3. You make a good point about the per-phone nature of the thing. How long before law enforcement has a kill-a-phone API though? Facebook has a dedicated website for law enforcement to get info on Facebook users.

4. Your point about missing other devices is also a good one. But again the police can arrest people and prevent the information from getting out.

5. I think your statement about simply shutting down the towers is the best counter-argument. You're right, they can just kill the towers, even without phone company assistance. Send a few officers with bolt cutters and towers will go dark.

6. There are all kinds of after-the-fact justifications for doing something especially if you're in control of the situation. You can claim basically whatever you want. Law enforcement is generally considered more reliable by the courts than regular people; cops say X and protesters say Y and judges are likely to believe the police. This is well documented.

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The cynic in me says that #5 will never happen because it involves hurting big business. You can shoot up poor people with impunity, but you can't go around destroying property belonging to large companies without serious repercussions.

I can't quite decide how serious I am.

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I don't understand why there is any support for this ability in a phone. So they can prevent you from calling for help, from recording them, or what not? How much of a phone is disabled?

Finally, if they can do then its likely they will have phones produced only usable by important people who will be immune so who will those people be? How do they get their phones. Let alone, if its in the phone some group will figure it out and trigger it which would be pretty much awesome in my book

Government should never be given any ability to suppress speech or the expression of it and my communicating with another person is expression. They have no right to prevent it, especially under the guise of get them all and let God sort it out mentality that they hide behind to trample individual rights

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Because there's an epidemic of cell phone theft, many cellphone manufacturers don't provide a reliable mechanism for the victim of theft to deactivate their phone, and third party solutions are hit-and-miss. The primary purpose of the legislation is to require manufacturers to provide users with a way to remotely brick their phone. They're also required to get the user's permission for this as part of the phone setup, and make it easy for the user to disable the feature at any time. That's why there is support for this ability in a phone.

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Also, the bill requires that owners of the phone be able to disable the kill-switch functionality at any time if they want. So anyone heading to a protest or other activity there they anticipate police interference can immunize themselves against such service interruption if they are so inclined.

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This is a very important point. Also, the limited scope of the "essential features" which are disabled.

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> The bill says that police CAN use this mandatory kill switch, but must comply with Public Utility Code Section 7908 in doing so.

The actual wording is this: "Any request by a government agency to interrupt communications service utilizing a technological solution required by this section is subject to Section 7908 of the Public Utilities Code".

This looks more like an IF than a CAN to me. It's saying that they cannot evade the requirements of 7908 by using the kill switch instead of some other mechanism that is covered by 7908 to interrupt communication. It's preempting a potential argument that using the kill switch would not count under 7908, and so the police could use the kill switch with less restriction and oversight than 7908 requires. This seems a more natural reading to me than your reading of it...although I haven't looked at prior drafts or the legislative history to see if there is something that indicates your reading is what is intended.

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If cell service can already be at the tower level, being able to kill individual phones seems like it would be very impractical in a protest situation. This seems less prone to abuse than a mass shutdown.

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I'm not sure the analogy holds. Yes, the tower level of control can be used to remotely disconnect thousands of people from the net, but this just separates people from the network.

The remote kill switch disconnects people from their ability to document what's happening. This frees the state from a sousveillent presence because it robs people of the ability to record what's happening at all. Remotely shutting down devices isn't about preventing people from tweeting - it's about preventing people from being able to create durable records of what happens.

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There are fundamental freedoms the government cannot and should not be able to subvert. Communicating with others, via any means necessary is one of them.

I feel I am politically very far away from many guns rights activists, and am wary of the practical outcomes of widespread weapon ownership, but at the same time I believe 2nd Amendment advocates are completely right to be wary of government's ability to strip individual power to protect and disrupt.

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It is sad to see groups of people who strongly support the Bill of Rights fall for menial tricks for the purpose of splitting them in to marketable groups of voters/donors.

All individual rights can be rationalized away in an unlimited number of scenarios, emergency and otherwise. Anyone who believes in those rights absolutely should logically appear insane at least sometimes.

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If this legislation passes (and I hope it doesn't) there will be an immediate First Amendment challenge.

One place where we've been lucky is the fact that the FCC has rules against jamming of any sort of radio signal.

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This isn't jamming a radio signal, it's disabling a device which has a radio in it. There's no FCC issue here.

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I know. My point was that that regulation protected us in absence of having a kill switch on phones.

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There's no existing American right to instant mass communications. And its arguable that we should be wary of this - it can cause riots, flash mobs and result in violence. This is the nature of human beings, and we should consider it carefully when expanding human rights.

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Absolutely yes there is: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

Allowing that "speech" is no less than "communication from one citizen to another", and "press" is a generic term for devices facilitating that communication, there is no reason to believe those who wrote & agreed to the particular enumerative wording of that right meant to exempt "instant mass communications". To the contrary, the specific inclusion of "the press" DID refer to the then-fastest means of communicating with the greatest number of people technologically possible at the time.

BTW: the American declaration of that right as fundamental was written by people who had in fact caused riots, impromptu mobs, and perpetrated violence precisely so they could implement a government which would, among other things, enshrine that right.

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Arguably, the nascent country's experience with shay's Rebellion under the Articles of Confederation provided momentum for the establishment of a strong federal government; while Thomas Jefferson was sanguine about the rebellion, responding with his famous quote about the Tree of Liberty, George Washington (who was in the more difficult position of actually having to govern) was rather less enthusiastic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shays'_Rebellion#Impact_on_Cons...

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I'm not sure if it's worth bringing this up anymore, but the California state legislature is not Congress.

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The California state legislature is bound to respecting the Bill Of Rights. This is well-established under the 14th Amendment.

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This is a rather irresponsible article. The bill as passed by the CA legislature [1] addresses this possibility. In section 2, Section 22761(e) of the code limits the scope of law enforcement use in accordance with section 7908 of the Public Utilities Code [2], which prohibits interruption of communication by law enforcement in anything other than a hostage or barricade situation, ie an ongoing standoff between police and criminals or another situation involving immediate danger of death or great harm (but requiring court submissions within 6 hours). Any other situation, including one where public safety is concerned (such as a protest) requires a warrant to be obtained in advance, subject to quite stringent conditions designed to limit the scope of the communications interruption. You should read it in full to understand all provisions, rather than relying on this summary.

Now, this set of rules is not perfect and could conceivably be abused by police or some other entity. But the cdt.org story ignores these rules completely and leaves readers with impression that legislators wither haven't thought about it or don't care. In reality the law is designed to prevent exactly this kind of abuse.

1. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?...

2. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=puc&gr...

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The blog post gives a full discussion of the extent to which the kill switch can be co-opted by law enforcement, and I think does so in a fair manner. It directly references both the bill's requirements for police use and PUC 7908.

Your comment, on the other hand, does not accurately describe the relevant law.

PUC 7908 states that "If a governmental entity reasonably determines that an extreme emergency situation exists that involves immediate danger of death or great bodily injury and there is insufficient time, with due diligence, to first obtain a court order, then the governmental entity may interrupt communications service without first obtaining a court order as required by this section."

Your statement that PUC 7908 prohibits interruption only in hostage or barricade situations is incorrect; those are referred to in PUC 7907, which discusses cutting phone lines. PUC 7908 involves cutting cell service, and is more broad - it uses the language quoted above.

I could easily see this applied to a protest; police say a protest will lead to looting (e.g. Ferguson), perhaps they even see plans for flash mob robbery on social media. On the basis of this, they brick every phone in a protest zone, undercutting protest organization and limiting demonstraters ability to film police abuse on smartphones.

I do not know what the legislators intended; maybe they don't know about the issue, maybe they don't care, maybe they think this is an adaquete solution and are wrong. I don't try to define their intent here, I'm simply trying to point out a very real problem with this law.

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7908(3)(C) incorporates s.7907 by reference.

(C) "Interrupt communications service" does not include any interruption of service pursuant to an order to cut, reroute, or divert service to a telephone line or wireless device used or available for use for communication by a person or persons in a hostage or barricade situation pursuant to Section 7907. However, "interruption of communications service" includes any interruption of service resulting from an order pursuant to Section 7907 that affects service to wireless devices other than any wireless device used by, or available for use by, the person or persons involved in a hostage or barricade situation.

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Yes, that provision does state that any type of wire cut conducted pursuant to 7907 that cuts cell service is also labeled as denial of cell service as discussed in 7908, but denial of cell service is not limited to such situations - there can be other means of shutting down cell service, such as police co-opting a kill switch.

More importantly, this subsection certainly doesn't change the fact that your above description of 7908 as a law that "prohibits interruption of communication by law enforcement in anything other than a hostage or barricade situation" is completely inaccurate.

It is broader, and could apply to protests if there is a claim of imminent risk of great bodily harm, as police have been claiming for the last week during mistreatment of protesters and journalists in Ferguson.

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You're not considering the second-order effects. Sure, the law in Cali says police must do X, Y and Z before killing the phones. But the phones already have the kill switch; and, because of convenience, all phones sold in the country will have this kill switch. Now what's to prevent the police in, say, Ferguson MO to just nuke everyone's phones in a region? California law doesn't apply in MO, and the police there will be free to do whatever they want with this switch.

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Counter-argument: If what you're saying is really how the law works, then why is CA attempting to pass this at all? By your logic, if they don't pass it then they can use it all they want, but if they do pass it then there are restrictions.

The entire reason for attempting to pass a law like this is because it's assumed it would be illegal for the police to do it without a law passed specifically saying they're allowed to (Like everything else). If the police in MO did this, they'd have tons of lawsuits against them.

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The argument is that they would have to pass the law first to compel the manufacturers to implement the switch in every phone. Then any other agency outside that law's jurisdiction can take advantage of the presence of the switch with little oversight.

It would still likely result in lawsuits anywhere it was used regardless of the law.

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That doesn't explain why the bill includes all the restrictions on government, though. If the aim was to empower government, they could simply have been omitted.

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I haven't seen anyone claim the bill empowers the government implementing the law beyond what it states.

The bill includes restrictions on the government at the level that falls within the jurisdiction of the law. The argument is what about jurisdictions that have no such law nor restrictions and take advantage of the existing hardware feature?

If we're talking Federal law then what you say makes sense, but as far as I know this is about a state law.

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I think the main reason they're passing the bill in general is a genuine desire to deter smartphone theft, and the result is a very bad policy outcome.

But keep in mind absent this law there is no mandatory kill switch in phones in the first place, so the possibility of police use en masse aginst protesters - regardless of whether law permits such co-opting or is silent on the subject - becomes much lower.

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Personally, I just read the Bill a bit closer, and this is right in section 2.b.1:

"The smartphone shall, during the initial device setup process, prompt an authorized user to enable the technological solution. The technological solution shall be reversible, so that if an authorized user obtains possession of the smartphone after the essential features of the smartphone have been rendered inoperable, the operation of those essential features can be restored by an authorized user."

And section 2.2:

"An authorized user of a smartphone may affirmatively elect to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution at any time. However, the physical acts necessary to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution may only be performed by the authorized user or a person specifically selected by the authorized user to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution."

And Section 1.g:

"As a result, the technological solution should be able to withstand a hard reset or operating system downgrade, come preequipped, and the default setting of the solution shall be to prompt the consumer to enable the solution during the initial device setup. Consumers should have the option to affirmatively elect to disable this protection, but it must be clear to the consumer that the function the consumer is electing to disable is intended to prevent the unauthorized use of the device."

Personally, as long as those things are both true and implemented correctly I don't see any reason to argue. If disabling it on the phone doesn't work, everybody with those phones could sue the company making them (If they live in CA...). Outside of CA, they could legally sell phones with kill-switches inside with no disable option, but that's legal to do right now anyway so this law wouldn't change that. And, seeing as in CA it'd be illegal to sell them without the disable option, I don't see why they would spend the extra money to design a version without a disable to sell outside of CA, so it probably wouldn't change things much.

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The top post is devoted to a discussion of those second-order effects. I'm pointing out that it ignores some rather significant checks upon government's use of this.

the police there will be free to do whatever they want with this switch.

Why, do they not have any law about interfering with communications in MO? If not, why hasn't cellphone service been shut down there already?

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It doesn't have to be legal for the government to do it. Look at the nsa.. any one who wants to give the government a kill switch to your phone is very uninformed. This level of protection for a phone makes zero sense.

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Here are things we know, and that we have known since the "kill switch" was first proposed:

1. Criminals/thieves will be able to circumvent/disable the kill switch, trivially, within weeks (days ?) of the introduction. Stolen phones will still have value, and theft will continue. Bank on it.

2. The kill switch will be used against legitimate users.

3. Phone manufacturers, who were against the kill switch, will find a hidden value in tying the kill switch to rooting, and using kill switch laws to impede rooting activities. If it's illegal to de-kill-switch, but legal to root, all you need to do is make it impossible to root with the kill switch in place. Presto!

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One, not all criminals who steal phones know anything about using a phone, and unless there's a guarantee that the kill switch is actually disabled nobodies going to take that chance of buying it off of you. It also makes the process more time consuming and error-prone, and seeing as the kill-switch is something someone can do right after they realize their phone is stolen, it'd be on a limited time basis. It makes the entire thing less worth it.

Two, it says RIGHT IN THE BILL that the phones are required to have an opt-out and disable feature, and they have to prompt the user to enable or disable when the phone is first setup, with the option to enable or disable at any later time.

Instead of spreading FUD, read the actual bill.

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Unrestricted radios are widely available and easy to build.

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Surrounding ourselves with devices we cannot trust can be detrimental to us, especially if they are being backdoored, contain malware or are used against us. I'm starting to realize the only solution is open source hardware + software. There might be no other way. How else could we trust a device if we cannot inspect it?

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Check out http://www.lowrisc.org

"lowRISC is producing fully open hardware systems. From the processor core to the development board, our goal is to create a completely open computing eco-system."

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Ask for the same trust & security of consumer devices as we ask of our servers -- with absolute certainty a reasonable expectation to all but an authoritarian state.

Edit: it is also worth pointing out that companies which fail to do this will eventually see them locked out of selling those products in certain countries.

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"California “Kill Switch” Bill Could Be Used to Disrupt Protests"

As if it were designed for any other purpose other than control. When did preventing stolen phones become such a hot button issue?

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As a critic of the bill, I'll readily concede that smartphone theft is a major problem. It's one of the most prominant crimes in urban areas, costs billions of dollars a year, and has in several occassions caused violence.

Still, it doesn't justify a mandatory kill switch (there are a large number of free apps you can download), and it certainly doesn't justify letting police use kill switches that are installed.

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This theft could be eliminated today : let there be a shared registry of stolen IMEI codes. Problem solved.

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Many devices allow changing IMEI codes. See https://www.google.com/search?q=imei+code+change

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Furthermore, not allowing an identifier such as IMEI to be changed is a potential privacy problem!

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When Apple implemented locking your phone to your AppleID and iPhone theft rates dropped precipitously[1], including (typically) violent robberies, because the phones can't be moved so it's not worth stealing them.

[1] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/antitheft-technolog...

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> When did preventing stolen phones become such a hot button issue?

When phones started being $600+ and carried by nearly everyone. I'm just as much against the kill switches as you are, but I've heard so many cops and high ranking police officers complain about smart-phone theft that I think that they truly believe this would be a major weapon against criminals.

And why wouldn't it be: every phone theft is hundreds of dollars, and there's a lot of phone thefts happening worldwide.

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> I think that they truly believe this would be a major weapon against criminals.

Not really. They truly believe that this bill would be great for controlling people. But they can't come out and say that openly. Hence the theft strawman.

We have a national do-not-call registry. Why not have a registry of stolen IMEI codes? Problem solved. But that would be too easy.

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"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong."

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> When did preventing stolen phones become such a hot button issue?

When phone theft became half of all robberies in San Francisco. When phone theft rose 40% last year in New York, to become 20% of all robberies in that city. When phone theft became the number on property crime in the US, accounting for 1/3 of all property crime. When in half the San Francisco incidents, the victims were punched, kicked, or physically intimidated, and in a quarter of them were threatened with guns or knives.

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This makes zero sense. Why would they brick phones, costing each user (and likely themselves when the users sue) hundreds of dollars in damage when they can easily disrupt phone service in an area for a controlled period of time or block specific subscribers at the telco?

Note that the kill switch operates at a per phone level, so they would have to identify every user at the protest they want to brick, at which point there are better ways to handle the situation.

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>Why would they brick phones, costing each user (and likely themselves when the users sue) hundreds of dollars in damage when they can easily disrupt phone service in an area for a controlled period of time or block specific subscribers at the telco?

Because they can demand that power and have it offered to them?

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Read the second half of the sentence you quoted.

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What makes you think I didn't read it?

That was exactly my point in answering it: the fact that there is another, already existing, way to effect the same thing, doesn't negate the fact that police often demands whatever they can get away with, even if its superfluous.

It's just another capability to block phones that they can have, and if they can have it without needing to even ask a telco to do it for them, even the better.

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Why would they brick phones, costing each user (and likely themselves when the users sue) hundreds of dollars in damage when they can easily disrupt phone service in an area for a controlled period of time or block specific subscribers at the telco?

Because it's not their money?

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You don't understand what he was getting at. It's much more complicated to go through this process to brick each phone individually (Which requires figuring out who owns what phone) then just disrupt phone service for a while in the area.

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Nah, build it so that it responds to distance to tower. Send out an alert to the whole system. If the phone is within communications distance of the tower, switch off.

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That's not how it works. You're arguing against a system that nobody is planning to build.

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I didn't say anyone was planning to build such a system nor argued against such a thing. I was suggesting another way it could be done.

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>costing each user (and likely themselves when the users sue) hundreds of dollars in damage

Qualified immunity.

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Won't kill non-phone devices. Those aren't as numerous, and maybe not as real-time, but they're very difficult to shut down.

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This is one reason I have a ham radio license and a couple of radios. You can't stop those. If they decide to shut down to interfere with local repeater stations, go peer to peer. If they interfere with a frequency range, just change to another one or another band entirely. If you don't want open voice being transmitted, switch to a digital mode.

It's mainly useful as a hobby or for emergency communications but there are other perks.

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The problem is, how many people actually carry non-phone devices? There are a small handful of folks who carry around SLRs or iPod with cameras, but not many. (Since Google glass is paired with a phone, I'm guessing it would be bricked as well.)

I'm also curious if "Airplane Mode" defends against shutdown. While common sense says it should, it's an easy loophole for the thieves who are (ostensibly) the purpose of the shutdown switch.

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The resale value of a phone that can never be taken out of Airplane Mode is going to be pretty bad, especially if it's "will instantly brick when you touch the setting", so it doesn't seem like much of a loophole for the anti-theft goal.

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The loophole is handset exchange at the local retailer.

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Wouldn't they check the phone against the list of stolen phones, or at least make sure the thing works as a phone, before accepting it?

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Returned devices often do not work--that's why they're being exchanged.

Also, just on the carrier's corporate retail side (small in comparison), we're talking about over 2,500 locations, over 25,000 reps, and over 500,000 new monthly adds and upgrades. Serialization is very expensive and does not eliminate the tricky human.

Also, even a disabled device is still worth parts.

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I don't think I understand what you're proposing.

Before, I thought "handset exchange" would be something where you bring in an old phone to get credit towards buying a new one. Like trading in a car. And like trading in a car, they'll want to make sure the old phone is actually worth something before they buy it from you.

Now... you're proposing a warranty exchange? Surely they check to make sure the device is actually eligible for the warranty (i.e. that you bought it, and within a certain timeframe) before they accept it?

Or is it something else entirely?

The fact that it would be worth the value of the parts is a good one, but not related to the question of whether Airplane Mode makes for a loophole.

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Within 14 days, anyone can cancel or exchange.

So, here's an overly complicated example: 1. Steal Nexus 5 2. Buy Nexus 5 from local retailer 3. Exchange the back from the stolen Nexus 5 with the clean Nexus 5 4. Return stolen Nexus 5 for full refund

What if they try to power-up or troubleshoot the stolen Nexus 5? While you're exchanging the back, damage the power leads.

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I assume the back is where the serial number lives?

Seems like that would work... once. The ID and credit check requirements would probably not make it a viable long-term solution though.

And, again, irrelevant to Airplane Mode.

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I don't care about Airplane Mode--if the device has been killed, why would one wish to power it on?

So, what about prepaid? No credit check or ID required. One just requires front money.

Also, keep in mind that the carriers have been fighting Identity Theft and handset upgrades for quite some time. For instance, people steal an identity and use it to get 5 free handsets. This is a on-going problem. Identity is a hard problem.

Also, a swap doesn't even require a purchase--just sleight of hand. If we go through the sale process, if the rep turns their back, I may be able to swap.

And this doesn't even take into account inside activity. I worked at T-Mobile for 8 years, starting as a part-time sales rep and ending a senior manager of business process. During my time, we fired the entire market of Houston twice.

There are many types of thieves, but in the case of those attempting to support a habit, with their will, they will find a way. Some claim they have no choice.

Finally, don't assume a perfect system. Telecom is a mess.

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Apologies, I thought you were continuing the original discussion of how Airplane Mode could provide a loophole.

Anyway, the system doesn't have to be perfect. If you significantly raise the barrier to turning stolen phones into cash, you'll significantly reduce the rate of theft.

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Even if it were possible to raise the barrier on turning stolen phones into cash, it does not follow that it will reduce the rate of theft in the least. Do you think those that risk so much for so little are just going to roll over and die? Did you not learn the lesson of Whac-A-Mole?

If you really care about the victims, you'd use the warrant not to attempt to render tools to trash dumps, but instead use the warrant to query the networks. You know, perhaps give SWAT something legitimate to do... That seems like a deterrent for future thieves and a way to catch current thieves; or at least easier than catching copper thieves.

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Crime is subject to supply and demand like everything else. Reduce the reward, reduce the activity.

The argument could be made that you'll merely shift theft into other areas rather than reducing it overall. But it's real hard to make the argument that making it hard to fence stolen cell phones won't reduce cell phone theft is a pretty hard sell, especially if a carnival game is the best argument you have.

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There's just too many backdoors in smart phones. That's why I choose to use standalone hardware that can work with any phone for my voice encryption project:

http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/31/jackpair/

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I don't think I see the relevance. This article isn't about spying on you, it is about disabling your phone remotely ("kill switch," etc). How does encrypting your voice before it enters your phone mitigate that?

Plus if you're paranoid enough to use that then frankly you're too paranoid to own a cellphone at all. They can still use it to track your location and to remotely turn on the microphone and eavesdrop on the background sounds.

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My point is that it's too easy to create backdoor on smart phones. There're many ways to track and disable your phones, no matter whether it's a smart phone or not. For example, your carrier operator can do a lot of bad things on your phone. The difference with smart phone is that it can be hacked without accountability from the operator side.

Given than you are aware of such risks and still has the need to communicate, your next best options is to encrypt your conversations through non-smart phones, and that's where my project, JackPair, can be helpful.

And yes, I'm trying to promote the awareness of my project JackPair, and the technologies behind it. In fact, I'm running a kickstarter campaign now for JackPair (http://bit.ly/jkpair). I think its relevant here because people need to be more aware that they don't really own their smart phone these days.

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The relevance, as I see it, is that the same capabilities used to spy on mobile devices (0-day vulnerabilities/backdoors, or just leverage over telcos) could be used as a de-facto "kill switch".

That said, a law that explicitly gives the state authority to shut down all cell phones in a situation "they perceive" as a risk is an order of magnitude worse.

(The "kill switch" counterpart to JackPair would be systems like mesh networks, ham radio / APRS, etc. GoTenna is one recent commercial product: http://gotenna.com/ Of course it can probably be easily jammed)

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Commenter created that company he's linking to...there is no relevance to this article!

"JackPair: protect your voice phone calls from wiretapping by Jeffrey Chang & the AWIT team"

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The commenter did mention that:

> my voice encryption project

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This reminds me of Apple's patent to remotely disable protester's (cellphone) cameras: http://www.zdnet.com/apple-patent-could-remotely-disable-pro...

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"Police could use the kill switch to shut down all phones in a situation they unilaterally perceive as presenting an imminent risk of danger"

That's only one step away from the use of an EMP to isolate a crowd of people from the Internet (and each other) in Cory Doctorow's "Homeland" (I'm not a teen reader but I enjoyed it anyway)

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Yeah. Keep in mind those phones are bricked forever. It is probably much easier to disable phone service in a certain region from the network side. I would imagine people suing the police for destroying their phones.

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I seriously, seriously doubt 'bricked' forever. Unless the hardware actually overheats, it'd be possible to replace the relevant parts with cheap China imports.

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I haven't seen anything like it in the US. But I spent some time in China, and at the local grocery store close to my apartment, there were a couple of teen-aged looking kids with a hot-air soldering station and some smt stencils who were re-working cell phones (probably failed QC) in their spare time when they weren't selling sunglasses or wristwatches and that kind of stuff.

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Are there past, current, or future projects for launching networks w/in low earth orbit? I think it'd be effective to create an LEO, raspberry pi network for instances such as these. Remember when Libya turned off phones and the internet to stop unrest? People thought it was ridiculous and would never happen here. We're on that trajectory.

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you either comply with amateur radio restrictions (probably not what you have in mind; no encryption, licensing, etc), or you comply with FCC rules & regs. or just break a bunch of laws.

from a technical standpoint, the amateur radio folks have tossed up repeater satellites in the past. see AMSAT.

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Also, cops in California will be issued guns that they may use to arbitrarily murders citizens.

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Such things are used much less casually, though. There is immense public pressure not to misuse guns that isn't there for other stuff. Obviously guns are not immune to misuse, but it's not all that common. "Less lethal" weapons like tasers and batons and rubber bullets and tear gas get misused way more frequently, precisely because they're less harmful than a regular gun. It's likely that the same thing could apply to a cell phone kill switch.

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The argument will be that you don't "have a right" to cell service everywhere at anytime. "It's not like your service isn't restored after the protest."

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Doesn't the kill switch permanently disable the phone?

Edit - Nope. I just reread the bill. Sorry for any misinformation:

"prevent reactivation of the smartphone on a wireless network except by an authorized user"

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"Could"? I give it 5 years.

How do people see this as a good idea? There are already voluntary methods for this, so there is literally no good justification for forcing a state-controlled version on everyone.

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The advantage to mandatory and default-to-on is that it will be prevalent and will therefore decrease the expected value of mugging someone for their phone. That is a legitimate benefit, and is not worth nothing. I'm still not happy about the trade-off, if the disable doesn't depend on an owner-controlled code or similar.

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Fifteen years ago people were stealing mock-ups and pretending they had cell phones. I'm not sure those that commit felonies subscribe to the same value chain that you do.

Besides, assuming the device doesn't self-destruct Mission Impossible style, at worst it'll still be worth parts to someone. So there will be many more parts available--and possibly more victims to make up the difference (assuming muggers are working for something).

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You can't possibly believe those are reasonable points.

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What--that trying to stop an opportunistic crime with white market reason is idiotic?

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Inasmuch as that is even coherent, yes.

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Assumption: A Kill Switch will render a $500 device worthless, and thus eliminate the incentive for theft.

So, a couple of theft cases to frame: 1. People steal fake phones (shiny objects) that have NEVER worked, ie aesthetic value only. 2. Parts, such as replacement screens, are in great demand, and there are small urban retailers today that enjoy every opportunity to lower their costs, ie $5-50.

Following 1991 crime statistics, over 2/3 of those arrested for robbery tested positive for a controlled substance. Does an addict have Free Will? Delayed gratification? What's a $100/day habit like? What is an addict willing to do for a Klondike Bar? (Answer: Anything.)

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"Assumption: A Kill Switch will render a $500 device worthless, and thus eliminate the incentive for theft."

That is clearly wrong, but it is not the assumption. The "assumption" (and not a very big one) is that a kill switch will substantially reduce the value of the device, which will reduce the incentive for theft. And that's almost certainly the case.

"Following 1991 crime statistics, over 2/3 of those arrested for robbery tested positive for a controlled substance."

What percentage of the population at large would "test positive for a controlled substance"? Particularly in the demographics in question (young and risk-taking)? That's not a terribly meaningful figure. Some portion of these crimes doubtless are drug related, some portion of those crimes would likely still occur. So? If we can get rid of some other crimes that's still a boon (and may, as I've said, nonetheless not be worth the trade-offs).

"Does an addict have Free Will?"

In a meaningful sense, less than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean they're going to react the same regardless of circumstances. If robbery is working less well to get them their fix then it certainly seems like they might be less likely to pick robbery next time. For those that do respond by engaging in more robberies to pay for a fixed cost habit, they are more likely to get caught as they are forced to attempt more difficult opportunities and leave more of a pattern.

Flip it around. Say phones were cheap, and someone was proposing something to artificially make them more valuable to criminals. Would you think that likely to make the number of robberies go down, up, or not move?

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Robbery has been trending down since the 90s. What was being stolen before the proliferation of cell tech during the 2000s? I think it's clear cellular phones do not cause theft. Though, I do think those robbed, are robbed of all of their valuables. I also think it's clear that those robbed were targeted, and a valuable phone suggests other valuables. I also am aware of existing parts markets including eBay and traditional retail. Will this Kill Switch render a device worth less than its weight in copper? Probably not. "I want your wallet, watch, and such--keep the phone."

I think if we were actually serious about victims, instead of using that warrant for a Kill Switch, we'd use it to query the networks and track the breadcrumbs; it's even richer than metadata sourced from billing systems. (It works for finding missing hikers.) And I'm pretty sure existing law covers this already.

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People don't carry much of value any more except their electronics. Before the 90s, people carried more cash, more regularly.

"I think if we were actually serious about victims, instead of using that warrant for a Kill Switch, we'd use it to query the networks and track the breadcrumbs"

I don't know that I'd object to that. I'd still demand an owner-provided code. Note that I've never been saying "this system is amazing and exactly what we want", I've been saying "there is a legitimate up-side" - which I stand by, and which the existence of better alternatives don't undermine.

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If something is better than nothing, instead of expending capital on owner-supplied code infrastructure, why not pay robbers not to rob? That way, there's greater chance the owner is alive to use their device. (I'm thinking more control for you.)

And people carry much of value besides electronics today. You can use NYC seizure records and ATMs as proxies.

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"If something is better than nothing"

Of course something is better than nothing in the one dimension where it's something rather than nothing. I've never been arguing that this is the best solution or even a desirable solution. I've been stating (repeatedly) that there's a dimension (that doesn't involve being recipient of the contracts or similar) along which it's a positive thing. This was in answer to the strong statement, "How do people see this as a good idea? There are already voluntary methods for this, so there is literally no good justification for forcing a state-controlled version on everyone."

"why not pay robbers not to rob?"

Depends what you mean. A benefit solely for people who would otherwise rob seems obviously impractical - how do you verify that 1) they would rob absent the money, and 2) they refrain from robbing after you've given the money? Something broader like a Basic Income is actually something I favor, though I'm not certain that it will have a tremendous value in reducing robbery (though that's certainly conceivable).

"And people carry much of value besides electronics today. You can use NYC seizure records and ATMs as proxies."

You'll have to expand on this. Note that my argument was not "no one ever carries anything of significant value", but that the typical (black market) value of what's carried by even wealthy individuals has fallen if you exclude electronics.

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Is nothing finite, infinite, undefined, or? What you're calling "nothing" is actually everything not in your artificial construction.

If we unpack "nothing" further, we'll find any number of 'somethings' that are worse than what you're attempting to measure and affect. That's what we call Unintended Consequences, and not simply tautology or Begging the Question.

It is far from clear that this measure will have any significant affect on crimes such as robbery. And if we begin to unpack the "something" we quickly get to questions like, "Is it really a good idea to design a method for centrally destroying critical communication infrastructure?"

Following your logic, shouldn't we expect more robberies to make up for lost revenue?

If you're still in search of "cause", I'd suggest that the rate of robbery is inversely proportional to the typical waist size over time, i.e. we're wealthier now than we were.

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This has gotten even more inane. You ignore things I've said, attribute to me things I haven't, and generally aren't making a lot of sense. I'm done with this thread.

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Exactly, but the bill makes it mandatory and default on for all smartphones in CA (which will probably lead to the same happening across the U.S.) - Ferguson protesters, watch out when police tell you to stop recording on your phones

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That is simply not true.

The smartphone shall, during the initial device setup process, prompt an authorized user to enable the technological solution. [...]

(2) An authorized user of a smartphone may affirmatively elect to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution at any time. [...]

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>An authorized user of a smartphone may affirmatively elect to disable or opt-out of enabling the technological solution at any time

How much you want to bet that "opting out" happens on the government end and not the device end?

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Seems like the first time this happens it can be easily challenged on free speech grounds, right?

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In New York we already have a kill switch. It's called AT&T.

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Don't be silly, that's a nationwide feature.

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Does this include access points like the MiFi hotspot?

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Call Gov. Brown (916) 445-2841 and let his staffers know how you feel. This is SB962.

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It seems silly to disable individual devices with a remote "kill switch", when perhaps you can just do something at the network level: like block all but emergency calls, and instant messages, which coming via all the cell base stations in a given geographic area, which can be done without the inconvenience of sending configuration changes to large numbers of devices, based on where they are. There is still Wi-Fi. But most of that is connected to land lines going to telcos, with whose cooperation that could be blacked out also.

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This article is FUD.

From the actual bill:

"This bill would require that any advanced mobile communications device, as defined, that is sold in California on or after January 1, 2015, include a technological solution, which may consist of software, hardware, or both software and hardware, that can render inoperable the essential features of the device, as defined, when the device is not in the possession of the rightful owner. The bill would require that the technological solution be able to withstand a hard reset, as defined. The bill would prohibit the sale of an advanced mobile communications device in California without the technological solution being enabled, but would authorize the rightful owner to affirmatively elect to disable the technological solution after sale."

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Also from the actual bill (which the post includes a link to in the first line): "Any request by a government agency to interrupt communications service utilizing a technological solution required by this section is subject to Section 7908 of the Public Utilities Code."

The bill gives direct authorization for police to use this mandatory kill switch, so long as it complies with PUC Sec. 7908, which includes an emergency exception where police don't need court approval.

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Ah! This wasn't in the version of the bill that I googled (first result when searching 'sb962' showed me the original bill).

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