CTIA announces Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment “kill switch” policy

April 15, 2014
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It seems that the CTIA-The Wireless Association has practically backtracked on its position by unveiling its new Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. This new policy mandates that parties who willingly sign the commitment should provide a highly debated "kill switch" feature at no extra cost to consumers.

The "kill switch" anti-theft measure has been a point of contention between US lawmakers and the CTIA, which is practically made up of the country's wireless network carriers. The CTIA believes that the kill switch is a very harsh and final solution that is also open to security exploits from hackers. Government agencies and lawmakers, however, hold that it is a more effective deterrent that the CTIA's database of stolen smartphones. Now, however, it seems that CTIA has acknowledged the benefits of the feature, albeit in a more reversible format.

The commitment is composed of two parts which practically say the same thing. The first part addresses device manufacturers and operating system developers, requiring signatories to provide such an anti-theft feature at no extra cost to users. The second part, on the other hand, requires that carriers who also signed up should not prevent owners from downloading and using such a feature. The CTIA's anti-theft measure details some features you might already be familiar with from services like Google's Android Device Manager, allowing authorized users or agencies to remotely wipe data on the smartphone. Furthermore, the feature should include the option to render a device inoperable by locking down the smartphone's functions, except for emergency calls, and disallowing reactivation, even factory resets, without the owner's permission. But perhaps most important is that the CTIA's policy requires that the process can be reversed, rendering the phone operable again, with the proper credentials from the proper user.

Of course, this commitment is purely voluntary and only those who sign up will be required to follow the policy, and they are only required to allow users to download the feature at the very least. As of the announcement, most major manufacturers, platform makers, and carriers have willingly joined in, though the list seems still incomplete. However, that voluntary element might soon be moot. Lawmakers from different states have praised the move by the CTIA, especially since it just made their work a lot easier by establishing a precedent. Many of them mentioned passing laws that will require such a kill switch feature to be included by default in smartphones sold in their respective jurisdictions. If they do succeed, manufacturers and carriers might just end up preloading the anti-theft feature on all devices anyway instead of providing different configurations for different states.


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