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California governor signs 'kill switch' bill into law, required on all smartphones by 2015

Screenshot of Apple's Activation Lock feature. | Source: Apple

California Governor Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law a bill requiring smartphone manufacturers provide a remote "kill switch" for handsets sold within the state.

After being passed by the California Senate two weeks ago, the new kill switch measure calls on smartphone makers to offer a remote disablement function that activates upon initial device setup. The law is set to take effect by July 2015.

Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in February, the kill switch initiative looks to thwart a growing smartphone theft "epidemic" by building in security features that allow users to remotely disable their device when stolen or lost. Other states have forwarded similar legislation, though California is the first to place responsibility on manufacturers.

Apple's iPhone will be one of the many products affected by the new law, though the company already incorporates a remote locking mechanism in iOS with Find My iPhone. The system relies on an app connected to Apple's iCloud service, which when enabled lets users remotely track, lock, disable and wipe an iOS device. Further, Activation Lock prevents thieves from working around Find My iPhone's protocols by requiring credentials before signing out of iCloud or performing a device reset.

On the federal level, a proposed Smartphone Theft Prevention Act was introduced to Congress in February and would require all cellphones sold in the U.S. to be equipped with a free-to-use kill switch mechanism.

The cellphone industry is also proposing its own measures like the CTIA's "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment," which Apple signed on to in April. Google, HTC, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and all five major U.S. cellular providers have pledged support for the initiative.