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U.S. Carriers Reject “Kill Switch” That Prevents Smartphone Theft

Smartphone theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. today. Data shows that 20 percent of all robberies in New York City involve a smartphone. In San Francisco 50 percent of all robberies in 2012 involves a stolen phone. Other major cities are also reporting that between 30 to 40 percent of all robberies in their area involves cellphones. In the entire United States an estimated 1.6 million people have been victimized for their smartphones in 2012 alone.

smartphone theft

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and other officials have been requesting mobile manufacturers to incorporate a “kill switch” on their devices to stop the growing smartphone crime wave.

Samsung is one of the first manufacturers to act on this problem by coming up with a technological solution. The company proposed to pre-load the Absolute LoJack anti-theft software as a standard feature on their devices to render a smartphone useless if it is stolen.

Samsung’s proposal to pre-load the Absolute LoJack anti-theft software on devices as a standard feature has been met with resistance from AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, United States Cellular Corp., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. The reason provided by these U.S. carriers is that hackers may access the system and disable a person’s smartphone. An email correspondence between Samsung and some carriers shows that the carriers have ordered Samsung to remove the kill switch software before being shipped.

Gascon said that “These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums. I’m incensed. … This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers.”

Samsung said that it was working with the carriers, Gascon, and Schneiderman to come up with a solution to curb smartphone theft however have declined to comment on the emails. “We are working with the leaders of the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) Initiative to incorporate the perspective of law enforcement agencies. We will continue to work with them and our wireless carrier partners toward our common goal of stopping smartphone theft.”

Last June the CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the carriers, said in its Federal Communications Commission filing that a kill switch was not the right solution. A permanent kill switch poses a risk since hackers can disable the phones not only of individuals but of law enforcement officials as well.

Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA, says that the industry in cooperation with law enforcement officials have been working on a solution by creating a nationwide central database to track stolen phones. This system allowed any stolen phone to be deactivated and never used again.

Police officials however say that the nationwide central database is ineffective as most of the stolen phones end up overseas which is beyond the reach of the blacklist.

via nytimes