US law enforcement officials and consumer advocates back an initiative to convince smartphone manufacturers to implement a kill switch that renders stolen phones useless. Will the industry listen?
Law enforcement officials and consumer advocates in the US have come together behind an initiative designed to curb the rising incidence of phone theft in the country, according to
Called ‘Secure Our Smartphones’ (S0S), the coalition seeks to convince smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers to implement a kill switch that would render stolen phones useless.
The objective is to weaken the market for stolen phones, which are easily wiped and resold on the streets.
“It would brick the phone, as the kids today say,” says New York Attorney General Eric Scheinderman. “Thieves have to know that there’s no point in stealing a phone.”Schneiderman, along with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, organized a press conference in New York City to announce the initiative.
The two officials say the proposed kill switch can be integrated into smartphones as early as next year, since the technology to create the feature already exists. The next step would be to agree upon a standard, and then to provide consumers with a free kill switch option. Schneiderman said the public should not be forced to pay more for phones with a kill switch feature.
The smartphone industry — which thrives on phone theft because it forces consumers to purchase new devices — has resisted the idea.
Gascon told reporters that he spoke to Apple about the possibility of a kill switch a year ago, but was promptly informed that the company had no plans to install such a feature on their phones. He received a similar response from US wireless carriers. “The industry has a moral obligation to fix this problem,” Gascon said.
The SOS coalition — which includes politicians and various law enforcement agencies from more than a dozen states — is now raising the issue anew as smartphone thefts continue to rise even as average crime rates throughout the US have declined.
Half of all crimes committed in San Francisco last year involved a phone. In New York, 20 percent of all robberies involved a smartphone, which is 40 percent more than a year ago. In all, almost one in three robberies in the US involves the theft of a mobile phone, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
“The epidemic of violent street crime involving the theft and resale of mobile devices is a very real and growing threat in communities all across America,” Schneiderman said in an earlier statement. “According to reports, roughly 113 smartphones are stolen or lost each minute in the United States, with too many of those thefts turning violent.”
The announcement came on the same day that Schneiderman and Gascon were to co-host a smartphone summit with executives from Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics, Google Inc, and Microsoft Corp. “We’re prepared to deepen our inquiry if that is appropriate,” Schneiderman said.
After the summit, Schneiderman and Gascon released a statement saying that they asked the companies to develop an effective solution to this national crime wave and install in all new products within one year. Meanwhile, Apple has announced that such a phone service would be part of its iOS7 software to be released in the fall.
Gascon and Schneiderman said in a statement that they were appreciative of the gesture, but would reserve judgment until they could understand its actual functionality. “Apple has been very vague as to what the system will do,” Gascon said in an earlier exchange with the press. “We’ve been led to believe that it is not a kill switch.”
Some 96 percent of the US population uses mobile phones. According to one source, around $7 million worth of smartphones are lost in the US on a daily basis.
About the author: Henry Conrad is a 29-year-old game developer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aside from gaming and being a tech junkie, he also dabbles in creative writing, which allows him to create great storylines and backgrounds for his characters. Follow him on Twitter and Google +.