Really Bad Idea: Senator Klobuchar Wants To Mandate A 'Kill Switch' In All Mobile Phones

from the could-she-please-hire-a-technologist? dept

We hadn't heard much from Senator Amy Klobuchar recently, but every time she gets anywhere near legislation involving technology, you should run screaming for the hills (or, rather, call your own Senators to tell them to block whatever awful plan she's come up with). It's amazing that one Senator can get technology so wrong. Klobuchar, famously, backed the companion bill to PIPA, called S.978 in the previous Congress, which would have made unauthorized streaming of content into a felony, putting all sorts of perfectly reasonable YouTube users at risk of possible criminal charges, and possibly jailtime. In 2012, she tried to introduce the "Cloud Computing Act of 2012" which would have modified the CFAA to apply criminal enforcement to cloud computing as well. However, legal experts described the bill as a complete disaster, with one saying that her "definition of cloud computing service is incoherent."

Her latest move is to propose a bill that would mandate a kill switch in all mobile phones that could be activated remotely. The idea, here, is that this would allow those who had their phones stolen to disable them, rendering them (sorta) useless. It seems that, as with the other bills discussed above, Senator Klobuchar introduces these with the best of intentions, but with no clue about how technology works, or the likely "unintended" consequences of such things.

First, putting such a kill switch into all phones almost guarantees that it will be misused and abused in some form -- whether by government officials looking to cut off communications (as has been done at the tower level) or by malicious hackers looking to kill a ton of phones. The kill switch is just too tempting a target. Second, the actual benefit of this is likely to be limited. Phones will still get stolen and people will figure out how to hack their way around the kill switch within hours of it existing. Third, there's simply no reason for a law here. There are numerous software products that allow individuals to effectively do this on their own if they so desire. Mandating it, and adding fines to mobile operators who don't offer such a thing seems totally unnecessary.

So, even if we assume the best, and believe that, with all of these laws, Senator Klobuchar has the best of intentions, could she please hire someone who understands basic technology before writing any more bad laws that will cause harm?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:21pm

    welcome to "Old people and technology" this time we will be exploring the hilarious ideas of Senator Klobuchar

     

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    •  
      icon
      John Fenderson (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:20pm

      Re:

      Don't be so ageist. Ignorance of how technology works is just as common with the young as with the old.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:26pm

        Re: Re:

        no its not just as common.

         

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          btrussell (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 2:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I've watched many a college student rooting through their bags, looking for a calculator, while sitting at a tower of power.

          Ask young people running android phones if they have ever heard of linux. Yep! Just as ignorant.

           

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          BeeAitch (profile), Jan 30th, 2014 @ 4:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Your skills at debate are truly amazing.

           

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        identicon
        mary, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 6:18am

        Re: Re:

        No, it is not just as common. Old people over 50 ( and I am one) are not as capable technologically. If you don't believe this, you are delusional.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 8:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I guess I'm delusional, then! There's lots of ignorance in all age brackets, but I've certainly never noticed that a particular age group is more ignorant than others. (Admittedly, I have no data about 90+ year olds).

           

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Weird. Bill Gates is almost 60.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 7:31pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Old people over 50 ( and I am one) are not as capable technologically"

          All I need is one example to prove that statement is incorrect. Slam dunk.

           

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 4:35pm

      Re:

      Welcome to stereotypes are for the small minded.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 4:48am

      Re:

      Yet she's not that old. (Perhaps she needs to hang out with her much older yet has somewhat of a clue co-Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, to learn a bit more about technology.)

      (Holy crap! Her wiki says she's been touted as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court - eeek!!!)

       

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    silverscarcat (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:23pm

    I think...

    That between her, Feinstein, Rogers and a few others...

    That this proves the need for having term limits in the House and Senate to 4-5 terms in the House and 2-3 in the Senate tops.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    The one misconception of the Commercial Felony Streaming Act is that it applied to viewers of content, when it did not. The ONLY would have applied to those to TRANSMIT content, and only if MAKING MONEY.

     

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      crade (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

      Re:

      Yeah, those are youtube users.

       

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      crade (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:41pm

      Re:

      (ie: the people who currently get takedown notices for posting their video of a kid dancing to some song, or singing happy birthday or showing them beating a video game in as fast a time as possible or whatever else that is illegal to post (but not a yet a felony!?!) because copyright is moronic) and have ads on their videos (making money!)

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:13pm

      Re:

      We know. Felony for transmitting content even if making money is still insane.

       

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        That One Guy (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 6:20pm

        Re: Re:

        Oh come on now, obviously putting a video/music clip online for other people to see is just as horrible a crime as beating someone senseless, or robbing someone at gunpoint, shouldn't the law be changed to reflect this? /s

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    However, cell phones would still work with WiFi. And Wifi actually gives you a faster and more reliable connection than with 3G or even 4G. When at home, I have my cell phone use my 50GB comcast business class account. It is way faster than 3G or 4G will ever be.

     

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    crade (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    first, second

    More importantly, even if it was a useful feature to have a kill switch, why does it need to be mandated by law? If the kill switch were actually a feature that was beneficial to the customers, we wouldn't need a law, companies would put it in their phones and brag about it.

     

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      PRMan, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

      Re: first, second

      Every carrier can block IMEIs already and most of them do.

       

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      jackn, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

      Re: first, second

      Some already do.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:48pm

      Re: first, second

      "If the kill switch were actually a feature that was beneficial to the customers, we wouldn't need a law, companies would put it in their phones and brag about it."

      No they wouldn't. When your phone is stolen the thief can rack up $1000 (for which you're liable) before you can report it. It's VERY easy to spot with an algorithm that this is totally out of character and the account could be temporarily suspended (or at least until you reply to an SMS with your account PIN) but telcos don't offer that service. Why ?

      Because they just made $1000 of revenue.

       

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        crade (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:07pm

        Re: Re: first, second

        Man you guys are paranoid.. You can already download remote kill apps for your phone if you want. But thieves don't steal phones so they can chat with their grandma on pluto with them lol.. The cards are tracable and are the first thing to be ditched. They take them and sell them to poor suckers on ebay or craigslist or whatever.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 6:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: first, second

          > The cards are tracable and are the first thing to be ditched.

          Idea for an app: detect when the SIM has been changed (needs READ_PHONE_STATE iirc), and unless the user disabled the app beforehand, brick the phone.

           

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            Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 8:13pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: first, second

            I don't want to sound like an ad bot (like that Comcast guy earlier), but this seems vary relevant to the conversation.

            There's a program I use called Prey that I thought of the second I started reading this article. It's even more relevant now that you suggested a SIM card change detection. Prey does all of these things. And guess what, it's free (for 3 devices).

            Why do we need a law?

             

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            PaulT (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 1:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: first, second

            That's a really dumb idea, both in its scope for abuse and the huge number of legitimate devices it would cause to be killed.

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

      Re: first, second

      Would? Have. There's several services available that offer functionality along those lines if a user is interested. But that's not the government way, it needs to add its burden of compliance tax to everything to create a seething mass of dependent voters.

       

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    AricTheRed (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:42pm

    Simply more evidence that We The People...

    ... NEED to use the "Kill Swith" on some elected officials.

    Tell your friends, your family (well maybe not family, unless you don't like 'em) anyone who'll listen to throw the bums out!

    And get a whole new set of bums come November!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 2:58pm

    Intel CPUs from Sandy Bridge onwards, also has built in cellular kill switches. It's such a stupid idea, the only plausible explanation for building kill switches into electronics is some form of social control.

    Even if the kill switch is activated, there's nothing to stop the thief from removing the hard drive from a laptop, or dumping the contents of flash memory from a cell phone.

    Instead of ineffective kill switches which reduce security. How about factory default, strong encryption, on all electronic devices. Right out of the box.

    The reason we have kill switches instead of strong encryption right out of the box, is because these "kill switches" aren't really about protecting people's data, or reducing theft. The only plausible explanation left, must be some form of social control.

    Every mobile phone has it's own unique International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) number. If a phone is stolen, the victim can call up their service carrier and report the stolen phone. The service carrier will then ban the stolen phone's IMEI identity string from connecting to the cellular network.

    Yes the IMEI can be re-flashed, but if the thief is smart enough to re-flash firmware, then he/she is smart enough to dump your phone's flash memory. They can mostly likely also re-flash a bricked phone that's already been "kill switched" too.

    If for some reason they currently can't re-flash a bricked phone, it's only a matter of time before they figure out how to do it. Meanwhile, we have all become less secure from hackers, governments, and corporate abuse in the process.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:29pm

      Re:

      I happen to work with these "killable" CPUs as part of my job, so perhaps I can clarify this stuff.

      "Intel CPUs from Sandy Bridge onwards, also has built in cellular kill switches"

      That's not exactly true. Some Intel processors from this release on have remote kill switches, but most do not. It's a feature that you have to specifically ask for, and it requires the use of a motherboard that includes support for it. You are very unlikely to have this stuff without knowing it (unless you're using a laptop provided by your employer or something).

      Specifically, the CPU has to be a v.Pro one that includes support Intel HD Graphics, and has an H67 motherboard. These things cost extra. Also, this stuff has to be specially configured (Intel has no backdoor into this stuff, and you have to install security certificates for those entities that will have access) and it can all be disabled in the BIOS.

      If you do have one of these things, here's a little more info to tickle your paranoia bone: with these chips, you can remotely power the computer on and off, reboot it, operate it as if you were using remote desktop software, and even boot it from a boot disk you have in a remote computer!

       

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        btrussell (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 2:18am

        Re: Re:

        "Specifically, the CPU has to be a v.Pro one that includes support Intel HD Graphics, and has an H67 motherboard."

        If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.

         

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    Rekrul, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:17pm

    First, putting such a kill switch into all phones almost guarantees that it will be misused and abused in some form -- whether by government officials looking to cut off communications (as has been done at the tower level) or by malicious hackers looking to kill a ton of phones.

    It's kind of ironic that you mention such a feature being misused, or being targeted by hackers as a reason not to do it, considering that hackers are currently targeting all sorts of "smart" devices, but yet nobody ever stops to question if you really need your refrigerator hooked up to the net.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 3:25pm

    What could possibly go wrong?

    If a telco (or two) (or three) suffered a security breach and all the kill switches were activated simultaneously?

    Perhaps, for certain people in the US government, that's not an undesirable outcome.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 4:09pm

    I have two of them

    I don't anything about kill switches but I do know a lot about go fuck yourself switches.

     

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    Jay (profile), Jan 28th, 2014 @ 5:24pm

    What IS IT with idiots and kill switches? Joe Lieberman wanted a kill switch to end the internet.

    Joe Biden wants a kill switch to end piracy.

    Hillary Clinton wants a kill switch to end video game violence.

    Give me a "kill switch" to end stupid ideas from people that don't understand innovation and technology!

    Give me a "kill switch" to turn off the NSA and their police state.

    Give me a "kill switch" to turn off the FBI collecting information ala Hoover the dictator.

    Give me a "switch" to turn on the public awareness of bad programs and bad laws that don't help out America.

    Is that so hard to ask for?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 8:09pm

    I just hot glued a grenade to mine with 800 feet of sting .. no need for a kill switch.

     

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    Zem, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 9:09pm

    Don't Stop There

    Weak sauce I say. How about packing some explosives into the phone as well and make it a real kill switch. That way we could like intercept terrorist's phone calls and kill them before they did any harm!.

    Universal ID badges as well. We should make every have one, to be displayed on their clothing at all times. That'd stop those illegals.

    And while we are at it, those genetically disposed to be criminals, we should stop them breeding.

    And kids walking on my lawn... don't get me started on that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 10:00pm

    paranoid much?

    all this panic, I guess most do not know that the cellular data protocols used include instructions (commands) to power down or up parts of the system, effectively a kill switch.

    Its something you've always had, and how many people have been affected by this?? anyone ?? (did not think so).

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 3:42am

      Re: paranoid much?

      Talking about shooting your own argument in the foot...

      If the capability already exists, then obviously there's no need for a law to mandate it, hence writing one up, voting on it, and then implementing it would just be a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Jan 29th, 2014 @ 1:23am

    We need a kill switch for bad politicians...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 5:09am

    "The idea, here, is that this would allow those who had their phones stolen to disable them, rendering them (sorta) useless."

    I doubt it. This is simply another slight of hand - a different vector toward the same end. That being the capability to stop communication, both audio and visual from within a given area. This has been a wet dream of the discrimination enforcement brigade for some time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 12:33pm

    in what i consider a freeworld, this lady would be fired for exposing her lack of understanding of individual rights in proposing such a control, in a position where her job, in my freeworld, is to protect them

     

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    GEMont, Jan 29th, 2014 @ 3:47pm

    Witness-free false flag operations

    While it is often wisest to assume incompetence rather than malicious intent, such a kill switch would be very handy for the forces of Fascism during such orchestrated events as 9/11, where the Fed could instantly render all of the cell phones of all of the possible witnesses, inoperable.
    It would save them both time and effort during the inevitable cover-up process and allow for a much better public "education" of the Official Events, if there were no contradictory evidence floating about in the hands of unknown civilians.

     

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      Chris in Utah (profile), Jan 30th, 2014 @ 9:31am

      Re: Witness-free false flag operations

      The other 1/2 of this malicious intent it silences ANY protester at any venue, anywhere.

       

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        Clownius, Feb 1st, 2014 @ 6:44am

        Re: Re: Witness-free false flag operations

        Just the sort of thoughts i had.

        This would be really handy if people decided to protest and organise. Shut down their communications network before you send in the troops.

        Just because we are paranoid it doesnt mean someone isnt out to get us

         

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    GEMont, Feb 2nd, 2014 @ 5:11pm

    Just a thought.....

    I do believe the Fed (and every other government on earth) has long ago realized that "government" is an obsolete concept and, like any intelligent creature faced with extinction, is doing everything in its power - (using taxpayer dollars) - to delay its inevitable demise.

    While the (P)Residency of George Dubya certainly allowed the forces of fascism to rewrite the laws of the land in favor of criminal profiteering by the mega rich, it also had the unexpected backlash effect of showing the world's public that government was no longer needed to run a country.

    George and his gang of crooked millionaires spent zero time on statesmanship efforts while rewriting the laws for their corporate partners and stealing anything that could be shipped to Kuwait for re-sale. Yet the USA did not fall apart, and folks went to work as usual and chaos did not ensue.

    Those civilians worldwide; with more than three brain cells, noticed, looking back, that the USA ran just fine for over a decade without a real government in office.

    So methinks it now behooves the current criminals in office to do the only thing they know how to do - get enough dirt on everyone so that nobody can say anything bad about them and they can keep their lucrative day jobs, feeding at the public tax trough and partying nightly with their 1000 dollar an hour hookers, on their million dollar yachts, till dawn.

    Just a thought......

     

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    Janey, Feb 12th, 2014 @ 5:00pm

    silly California...

    the state of stupid laws and overbearing legislation.

    Look at that moron Deleon going on about "ghost guns" and now this guy saying that they need a kill switch?

    California needs a legislature reboot - vote them ALL out. They're idiots. Feinstein, Pelosi, De Leon, Leland Yee... Boxer..

    So much stupidity from that state these days. It's so disappointing.

     

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