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?

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

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crade (profile) says:

Re: 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!)

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

crade (profile) says:

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.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: 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!

Rekrul says:

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.

Jay (profile) says:

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?

Zem (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

GEMont (profile) says:

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.

GEMont (profile) says:

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……

Janey says:

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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