In Blog, Privacy and Internet Law

The International Wireless Association, the CTIA, announced this past week that its participating wireless companies have agreed to install a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones.  Known as kill switch technology, the toll will offer wireless customers the ability to:

1. Remote[ly] wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.

2.  Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., lock[] the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).

3.  Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above)

4.  Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

The commitment to the kill switch technology includes the following companies: Apple Inc.; Asurion; AT&T; Google Inc.; HTC America, Inc.; Huawei Device USA; Motorola Mobility LLC; Microsoft Corporation; Nokia, Inc.; Samsung Telecommunications America, L.P.; Sprint Corporation; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless.  These companies have agreed to include the kill switch technology in all new models of smartphones manufactured after July 2015 at no additional cost to the consumers.

Wireless companies have been under increasing pressure by State Legislatures to offer the kill switch technology.  It is the hope that with the ability to render smartphones inoperable, it will thwart the increasing problem of smartphone theft.

This week’s announcements should also come as welcome news to the business community.  With employers increasingly instituting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies that allows employees to utilize personal smartphones for their work, it is common for smartphones to possess an incredible amount of  proprietary and private information.  If an employee has their smartphone lost or stolen, depending on the circumstances, the loss could be considered a data breach and require notification to consumers and law enforcement personnel.  By having technology that could remotely destroy the information contained on a smartphone, many of the concerns over smartphone use can be alleviated.

Until July 2015, companies should be ensuring that they have technology in place to ensure the remote destruction of smartphones.

About the author: Andrew P. Bolson, Esq. is an attorney with Meyerson, Fox, Mancinelli & Conte, P.A. in Montvale, New Jersey. Andrew’s practice focuses on commercial and estate litigation, business law, real estate law, estate planning and privacy and Internet law.