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Law Enforcement Officials Urge Smartphone Makers To Include ‘Kill Switches’

(Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane speaks as Mayor Michael Nutter, left, and New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman listen.  Credit: Mike Dunn)

(Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane speaks as Mayor Michael Nutter, left, and New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman listen. Credit: 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

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The attorneys general of Pennsylvania and New York came to Philadelphia City Hall this morning to  promote an effort to get cell phone manufacturers to install “kill switches” so a phone that’s stolen could be immediately deactivated.

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cell phones are stolen each year.

“The problem with smartphones is that they’re not only easy to steal, they’re very easy to, what they call ‘jailbreak’ — to clean them off.  You wipe them clean but their systems are still operational,” he explained.

Schneiderman and his Pennsylvania counterpart, Kathleen Kane, are urging the cell phone manufacturers to install what are called “kill switches” in the firmware of each device.

“A kill switch is to have, as soon as your smartphone is stolen, you can do what you do with your credit card: you just contact the company, stop it, it’s dead.  It can’t ever be used again,” Kane said.

Schneiderman and other officials in a coalition called “Secure Our Smartphones” believe that if kill switches are installed in all devices, it would dampen if not eliminate the market for stolen phones.

But, as Kane pointed out, the kill switches must be on all phones.

“Unless all of the phones have it, the crime will continue, because a thief will not take the time to see what phone you have,” she said.  “They will not take the time to see if you have a kill switch or not.”

And Kane said there’s a direct link between cell phone theft and violent crime:

“Our data shows that 40 percent of the cell phone crimes are committed through robberies, and 40 percent also then have violent crime associated with them.”

Schneiderman implied that some manufacturers are resistant to kill switches because it could hurt their bottom line.   He also said companies may be hesitant to take the lead.

“We understand that individual manufacturers may be reluctant to do if everybody else is not.  So that’s why we’re undertaking this effort to create an industrywide campaign, to create pressure all over the United States,” he said today.

Schneiderman said the new activation feature in the latest iPhone operating system is a step in the right direction, but because it involves the owner opting in, it does not, in his view, go far enough.

Mayor Nutter, who also joined in the proceedings, said the phone makers can get this done if they want to.

“Clearly these folks have so much time, so much time and so much money, they can figure this one out,” the mayor said.

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