SAN FRANCISCO -- Bay Area civic leaders joined Friday to announce pioneering legislation that would require all smartphones and tablets sold in California to have a "kill switch" by 2015 to render the devices useless to thieves.
Smartphone and tablet robberies have become an epidemic across the nation and particularly in the Bay Area, accounting for more than half of all robberies in San Francisco and up to 75 percent in Oakland. Senate Bill 962, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, calls for pre-equipped theft-deterring technology on mobile devices to protect consumers by taking away the thieves' incentive to steal.
"This is a crime of convenience. We end the convenience, we end the crimes; it's that simple," Leno said.
The technology is already available -- Australia has been requiring it on its phones since 2003 -- but the mobile industry in the United States has been fighting it while it makes about $7.8 billion on theft and loss insurance products annually, officials said. The majority of the stolen devices are shipped overseas.
"Carriers are profiting tremendously from the theft of these devices," said District Attorney George Gascon. "A business model based on the victimization of consumers is not a business model worth defending," Leno said.
Apple already offers a kill-switch function for its devices, but the customer must opt in to the service, officials said. Apple and Motorola declined to comment on the proposed legislation on Friday.
"While we don't think legislation is necessary, Samsung supports the San Francisco District Attorney and the Secure our Smartphone (S.O.S.) Initiative," a Samsung spokeswoman said. "We have been, and will continue working with them and our carrier partners toward our common goal of stopping smartphone theft."
Marc Rogers, principal security researcher for Lookout, a company tapped by Gascon as a tech adviser, lauded the legislation for giving companies the opportunity to develop their own killswitch solutions without prescribing exactly which technologies they need to use.
"No one silver bullet is going to solve this," Rogers said. "The recipe here is one that will encourage all of the technologists to get together and address the best kind of solution to the one thing we all agree on, that we need to stop smartphone theft."
Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, who was robbed of his smartphone at gunpoint 18 months ago, said it will be a challenge to have the bill passed in Sacramento as telecom is considered one of the most visible and engaged trades in politics. He said that Mayor Jean Quan assigned lobbyists in Sacramento to make SB 962 a high priority.
"We understandably focus on things we can accomplish locally, whether it's putting money in the budget or to hire more police officers or to fund crime prevention programs," Kalb said. "But I realize that sometimes we have to do things on a larger level, state or federally, in order to help people in Oakland and make Oakland a safer place to be."
"This policy will save lives," Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said. "We need to stand up to an industry that thinks this isn't important."
Campaigning for the bill is Paul Boken, whose 23-year-old daughter Megan Boken was shot and killed during a cell phone robbery in St. Louis in 2012. On Thursday, someone was shot for their phone in Dallas.
"Megan Boken did not need to be killed for a cell phone," Gascon said. "Unfortunately, Megan's case is not unique."
With mirror legislation in the works in New York, officials said they believe that other states will follow the two states.
"It's crazy to think we could arrest our way out of this," San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said. "The answer is truly what this legislation does -- it makes the object not worth stealing."
Staff writer Jessica Calefati contributed to this report. Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.