Financial markets mavens are no strangers to the pretensions of U.S. city and state governments to legislate for the entire world economy. I mean, who doesn’t love to see a feisty local hero like (pre-prostitution scandal) Eliot Spitzer crusade for the little people and bring those foreign ogres under the rule of law? Hence California’s proposal to deal with its little local public order problem by putting an armlock on the global cellphone industry – a plan which could impact the ereading habits and device options of quite a few Californians, while making, oh, immeasurable difference to Golden State street crime rates.

Because yes, California does face street crime issues. Seems the street trash singled out by the likes of AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman can’t keep their dirty filthy hands off those shiny iPhones. The solution? Obvious, really. More policing? No. (Have to pay them, and remember that little budget problem?) More surveillance? (Wrong: See above.) Better income redistribution and social improvement projects? (I’m sorry, did you just fall off Cloud Nine?) Much cheaper (and more populist … oops, meant popular) to beat up on the cellphone carriers and strong-arm them into introducing oh-so-effective-and-undefeatable killswitches on all cellphones sold within the hallowed precincts of Calif.

And if you’re a crusading D.A. like San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, and those scoundrelly carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless won’t play ball? Get a New York Times interview (other side of the continent, yes, but similar politics), and complain. Loudly. Then get state Senator Mark Leno to back you up with a bill “that addresses the epidemic of smartphone theft .”

“One of the top catalysts for street crime in many California cities is smartphone theft, and these crimes are becoming increasingly violent,” says Leno in the official announcement on the bill. “We cannot continue to ignore our ability to utilize existing technology to stop cell phone thieves in their tracks. It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities.”

Apparently, the same announcement tells us, “according to the Federal Communications Commission, cell phone thefts account for 30 to 40 percent of all robberies nationwide. In San Francisco alone, more than 50 percent of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile device.” So cellphones are more dangerous than crack? Scary.

At this rate, Crockett and Tubbs might have to come out of well-tanned Miami retirement to deal with the flotillas of fast cigarette boats likely to run California’s blockades with cargoes of illicit unkillable cellphones. And I can’t wait for the remake of From Dusk Till Dawn relocated to Nevada’s border strip, where Californian bears stop and search for the undead incoming. And the new Silicon Valley-led arms race to make sure that California-mandated killswitches really kill. As in death. Stake through the cellphone heart, never to rise again.

What’s more, San Fran and NYC are cooperating on the initiative, the so-called Secure Our Smartphones coalition, in a pincer movement designed to sandwich (yes, pincers to squeeze your sandwich) the entire country, and all those pesky carriers, between them. Reminds me of another Coalition. Wow, shock and awe.

You don’t have to be a Dead Kennedy to conclude that California’s resources and money are better spent on things like more effective policing, but what’s real-world logic when set against electoral calculations and the personal agendas of ambitious attorney generals? (Or should that be attorneys general? Or general attorneys?) And anyway, apparently quite a few of California’s more illustrious citizens have already concluded they’re the new Master Race. Today Sacramento; tomorrow, the world. Bow down, you puny cellphone carrier pygmies, bow down.

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


  1. The carriers offer consumers insurance policies and they make a ton of money from that business. A universal “kill switch” requirement would significantly lower the incentive to steal smartphones because they would be “bricked” and worthless. That lowers the demand for smartphone insurance which lowers carrier revenue. So, surprise, cellphone carriers are against the kill switch proposal.
    Those shiny new iPhones do have a kill switch but Samsung’s smart phones do not. The reason for that has to do with who actually controls what is delivered to the customer. In the case of the iPhone, only Apple and the customer have control over how an iPhone can be and is configured. Samsung and other smart phone manufacturers are subject to the wishes of the carriers and those carriers are quite against a kill switch for the reasons stated above.
    Prosecutors point out that, from a distance, smartphone thieves have difficulty discerning an iPhone from some other smart phone so they are not dissuaded from doing whatever to get your smartphone because it might not be an iPhone and, so, it might be worth a few bucks.
    Thus, prosecutors would like for all smartphones to have a kill switch so that thieves would eventually figure out that stealing them and doing bodily harm in the process wasn’t worth the effort.
    Personally, I’d rather have prevention than what little an insurance policy can compensate me for. Recall the case of a NYC woman who lost a finger to a smartphone their.

  2. Oh yes, much better to keep the current system where a stolen smartphone is an item for a hacker to plunder, and then a valuable sales item because there’s no way to brick your stolen phone.

    I get that it’s fun for you to:

    A. Ignore that cellphone companies have a vested interest in not bricking so you’ll buy profitable insurance.

    B. Assume every politician who doesn’t agree with you has ulterior motives.

    C. Write a snotty article all about how short term fixes are worthless because what we really need to do totally reform society and anything less is a waste of time.

    As a reader? I miss when Teleread was actual content instead of opinions.

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