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Smartphone 'kill switch' law passes in California

A bill that requires all new smartphones sold in California to come loaded with a "kill switch" passed the legislature on Monday and is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.

This anti-theft technology, already available on some cellphones, allows the owner to lock the device if it's lost or stolen – making it useless and worthless to a thief.

"Our goal is to swiftly take the wind out of the sails of thieves who have made the theft of smartphones one of the most prevalent street crimes in California's biggest cities," Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) who authored the bill, said in a statement.

Read MoreSmartphone 'kill switch' bill passes in California

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón pushed hard for this bill, noting that more than half of all robberies in his city last year included the theft of a smartphone. He commended the legislature for "standing up to the wireless industry "and voting to protect the safety of their constituents.

"The manufacturers have indicated that they will implement this technology nationwide with passage of this bill, and with organized crime rings shipping smartphones stolen in the U.S. overseas, passage of this legislation will have implications for public safety around the globe," Gascón said in a statement.

A survey by Consumer Reports projected that about 3.1 million smartphones were stolen nationwide last year.

Read MoreWhy calling 911 on your cell is not a good idea

CTIA -The Wireless Industry Association opposes the kill switch and has urged the governor not to sign it.

Jamie Hastings, CTIA's vice president, external and state affairs, said the bill is "unnecessary" because the industry has taken "significant actions to provide consumers with the tools and information needed to help deter smartphone theft." This includes stolen phones databases, anti-theft apps and a voluntary commitment to offer anti-theft tools to consumers starting next summer. State by state technology mandates, "are detrimental to wireless consumers," Hasting said in a statement.

The Minnesota legislature passed the first kill switch bill back in May. It takes effect next July and it relies on consumers to enable the technology.

The bill passed by California lawmakers would require that the kill switch is turned on as the default setting. Customers who didn't want the feature would have to disable it when they set up their new phone.

Read MoreCell phone thefts soar as advocates hail 'kill switch'

Law enforcement groups who supported the legislation believe this "opt-out" format will encourage people to use the kill switch function. If most thieves believed the kill switch on most smartphones is enabled, they say, this would discourage them from stealing them.

Gov. Brown has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law. His office told CNBC the governor does not comment on pending legislation.

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.

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