Smartphone 'kill switch' sought

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks. Behind her are (from left) Annie Palazzolo, whose sister was killed for a cellphone; her father, Paul Boke; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice speaks. Behind her are (from left) Annie Palazzolo, whose sister was killed for a cellphone; her father, Paul Boke; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. (BEBETO MATTHEWS / AP)
Posted: June 15, 2013

NEW YORK - Law enforcement officials nationwide are demanding the creation of a "kill switch" that would render smartphones inoperable after they are stolen, New York's top prosecutor said Thursday in a warning to the world's smartphone manufacturers.

Citing statistics showing that one in three U.S. robberies involves the theft of a mobile phone, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the formation of a coalition of law enforcement agencies devoted to stopping the "epidemic."

He was joined at a news conference by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

The coalition, called the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative and including prosecutors, police, political officials, and consumer advocates from more than a dozen states, will pressure smartphone companies and their shareholders to help dry up the market in stolen phones.

The announcement came on the same day Gascon and Schneiderman cohosted a "Smartphone Summit" with representatives from Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft.

Schneiderman likened the functionality of a kill switch to the ability to cancel stolen credit cards. The public should not be forced to pay more for smartphones that have a kill switch, he added.

At a developers' conference this week, Apple said such a feature 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."

After Thursday's summit, Gascon and Schneiderman noted in a statement that "Apple and Samsung have taken steps in the right direction, but it is clear to us that the industry as a whole has more work to do to protect consumers from violent street crimes."

To drive home the point, authorities introduced relatives of 23-year-old Megan Boken, who was killed in St. Louis in 2012 by an assailant trying to steal her iPhone.

Thefts of smartphones and other mobile products comprise 40 percent of all robberies in New York City, authorities say.

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