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Phila. Councilmembers Agree To Explore Cell Phone Buyback ‘ATMs’

(An EcoATM cell phone buyback machine being demonstrated at the 2013 annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in Philadelphia.   Photo by Mike Dunn)

(An EcoATM cell phone buyback machine being demonstrated at the 2013 annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in Philadelphia. Photo by Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A City Council committee today approved a ban on machines that buy back used cell phones.

But the ban may never get to a final vote — after the manufacturer spelled out the strong security measures built into the kiosks.

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Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has proposed an outright ban on the units, marketed as “EcoATMs,” which give cash on the spot for used phones.

But at the hearing today, company officials laid out the security precautions in each transaction — including thumbprints, multiple photographs, and a scan of photo IDs.

And Max Santiago, the firm’s law enforcement director, said that data is readily turned over to authorities.

(Max Santiago of EcoATM.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Max Santiago of EcoATM. Image from City of Phila. TV)

“We are not aware of any other business, legitimate or otherwise, which records as much documentation as we do and reports these transactions to the (local) police,” Santiago (right) told the councilmembers.

But law enforcement officials at the hearing voiced concerns about the broader issue of rising cell phone thefts.  Maureen Rush, head of public safety at the University of Pennsylvania, speculated that the automated kiosks could promote cell phone thefts despite the built-in security measures.

“When there are transactions without people checking and double-checking, it can be traced and all that’s terrific, but how do you stop it?” she asked.

With strong arguments both for and against a ban on the machines, the Council Public Safety Committee split the difference: members approved the bill but the sponsor, Councilwoman Reynolds Brown, will delay final passage by the full Council.

In the meantime, she plans to form a task force to look into the entire matter.

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