Ohio bill would require upgraded texting technology for the state's mobile phone users
Cell phone technology has improved greatly over the past three decades. But one Republican state lawmaker wants providers in Ohio to make sure texts are more secure.
Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R- Perrysburg) said most Ohioans are still sending and receiving texts through old technology called SMS or Short Messenging Service. Ghanbari said that technology can distort pictures and make them blurry. But even more important, he said SMS texts cannot be encrypted, making them easier to hack.
Ghanbari has sponsored a bill that would require mobile phone companies to use an upgraded technology that encrypts texts. He says this upgraded technology is already being widely used for email. And he said now is the time to do it when the state is investing money into a program that allows Ohioans to use texts to access the state's 911 service.
"Encryption and safety is paramount. Compromising an SMS text would be something probably the most amateur hacker would be quite bored by,” Ghanbari said in a first hearing on the bill before the House Technology and Innovation Committee. “A 2021 investigation from the news outlet "Vice" found that an entire device's texts could be hacked for roughly $16.”
Ghanbari said questions about security were heightened after many cases of fraudulent activity were discovered during the pandemic. His legislation would require providers to upgrade texting technology or face steep fines. Some of the improvements mandated would require transmission and receipt of photos, video, and other media in their original quality, real-time notifications when senders are typing a message, and when recipients have received it.
“It's easy to put this on the back burner or as some would say, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it," Ghanbari said.
But Ghanbari's Republican colleagues on the committee had questions. Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester) took issue with part of the bill under which courts must immediately enjoin the unlawful action and charge a $10 per user fee for each month the company remains in noncompliance.
"It is your proposal that any company that does not enforce this law could have civil action taken against it?" Gross asked.
Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) questioned whether the state was meddling in free markets by demanding this technology and suggested companies offer the upgraded technology as an optional service.
"They can do so and consumers can make a choice to use that or not. Is this not going too far and saying everybody has to provide the same product to their consumers?" McClain asked.
But Ghanbari said this is a safety issue and said security shouldn't be something that is afforded to some customers and not others. He explained banks, for example, often want two-factor authentication for texts that are commonly sent via unencrypted SMS.
Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) also wondered whether mandating encryption would make it more difficult for law enforcement officials to go after criminals.
If the bill gets another hearing, it won't happen until after the March primary at the earliest.