Adding a smartphone kill switch is not only a way to deter smartphone theft, but could also potentially lead to money being saved by consumers. Lawmakers have pushed for OEMs and carriers to implement kill switches and it was only recently that a bunch of big tech companies, such as Apple, Google, HTC, Samsung, and etc. have participated in a voluntary program that will see kill switches added to their products in the future.
This is great news for end-users, right? After all a dead phone is useless to the thief who just stole it, but on the flipside of things, it seems that kill switches have the potential to interfere with police work and it was recently that the Department of Justice is arguing for the right to search the phone of suspects without the need for a warrant.
According to them, arresting a suspect and being able to check their phone on the spot for evidence could help lead them to arrests. With kill switches being implemented, it is possible that the suspect or their associates could remotely wipe the phone and there would no longer be any evidence left that could lead to their conviction.
This is a valid claim but at the same time, there is also the argument that by allowing officers of the law to perform such searches could be a serious violation of privacy that goes beyond patting a suspect down and checking their bags, pockets, or car interior.
The argument by the Department of Justice does seem a little bipolar which is summed up nicely by ACLU principal technologist, Chris Soghoian, who states, “You have this weird scenario where law enforcement has demanded remote wiping be deployed, and now they’re using that to also justify warrantless searches.” What do you guys think?
Ubergizmo’s co-founder Hubert Nguyen pointed out that since the killswitch has to go through a centralized service from the OS provider, or the wireless carrier, it’s not unreasonable to think that law officers could also get a warrant to prevent the killswitch to work. Also, there are already a number of 3rd party apps that would do exactly that as long as the phone is connected to the Internet, so it’s not clear that a global killswitch based on the device ID would hinder investigations more than what’s already out there.