Nutter, Kane seek kill switches for stolen phones

Posted: October 30, 2013

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Mayor Nutter joined a campaign Monday urging smartphone manufacturers to design and install "kill switches" that would allow the devices to be permanently disabled if lost or stolen - a move aimed at crippling the black market in stolen phones.

"We are calling on cellphone manufacturers to act as responsible corporate citizens by designing their product with technology that would render stolen phones inoperable," Nutter told reporters at a news conference with Kane and New York state's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, who has launched an initiative called Secure Our Smartphones.

Nutter described smartphone theft as epidemic. Kane cited a study by AAA Mid-Atlantic that named Philadelphia as the nation's leading hot spot for smartphone theft and loss, based on data from Lookout Inc., a mobile security firm in San Francisco.

"Our citizens are literally dying for smartphones," Kane said. "The amount of violent crimes, robberies, and deaths is very, very alarming to me."

She cited Lookout's estimate that American consumers spend $30 billion a year replacing cellphones that are lost or stolen.

"That's quite an incentive for the manufacturers . . . an incentive for them to make sure that they don't have kill switches," Kane said. "But we know that they're better than that . . . and that they will do more to protect their consumers and make sure that profits do not come before lives."

Several firms have developed software to improve smartphone security. Microsoft has an online service that lets users lock or erase their phones from a remote location. Still, Schneiderman said, his technical advisers believe software fixes alone won't deter hackers, and favor changes in smartphone hardware.

Nutter said Philadelphia police had recorded 3,587 smartphone thefts from January through September - up slightly from prior years.

The mayor's figures did not include situations where cellphones were taken by force or threat of force - a crime that would be categorized as robbery, not theft. The Police Department said Monday it would need more time to come up with comparable figures on robberies involving cellphones.

When Lookout issued its $30 billion estimate in 2012, it said the analysis was based on data from its "Mobile Lost & Found" application, with 15 million users worldwide.

The numbers suggested U.S. consumers had as much or more to fear from forgetfulness as theft. Lookout said that it had located nine million lost smartphones in 2011, and that a typical consumer loses a cellphone once a year.


warnerb@phillynews.com

215-854-5885

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