State senator Mark Leno and other elected officials yesterday unveiled legislation requiring that new smartphones or tablets have technology that could be used to remotely render them useless.
Backers called the bill the first of its kind in the United States; opponents fear it may allow hackers to shut down people's devices.
"With robberies of smartphones reaching an all-time high, California cannot continue to stand by when a solution to the problem is readily available," said Leno, a Democrat representing San Francisco.
"Today we are officially stepping in and requiring the cell-phone industry to take the necessary steps to curb violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses."
The legislation would leave service providers or manufacturers, including iPhone maker Apple, facing fines if smartphones or tablets sold in California beginning next year don't include mechanisms to instantly disable them.
The bill will be introduced within a few months, according to Leno.
More than half of robberies in San Francisco involve mobile devices, and that share is three-quarters across the bay in the city of Oakland, according to Leno's office.
"The wireless industry must take action to end the victimization of its customers," San Francisco district attorney George Gascon said.
"This legislation will require the industry to stop debating the possibility of implementing existing technological theft solutions and begin embracing the inevitability."