Lawmakers Pressure Cellphone Makers, Carriers to Install Kill Switch

Apr 11, 2014

It’s probably happened to some of us – we’re focused on checking email or texting on the go that we might not be aware of our surroundings.  Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said smartphone robberies are becoming more of a problem because it can mean easy money. 

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Syracuse City Hall Friday with Congressmember Dan Maffei and State Senator Dave Valesky.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

“People who are on their smartphones often are distracted,” he said, “you know, if they’re listening to music or something. People just knock them over, grab [the cell phone], and it’s too easy.”  

A rise in smartphone robberies is why Schneiderman and the San Francisco District Attorney began the “Secure Our Smartphones Coalition.” Unlike other cities, Syracuse is lucky and has yet to report any fatality due to cell phone robberies. However, Frank Fowler, Syracuse Police Chief, said phone thefts have risen in the past year. According to Fowler, they account for more than 1/3 of all robberies.

Robberies of any type of property places people in harm’s way. When we can discourage this type of robbery, we can have an opportunity to decrease our robberies by 35%, and that’s a great number.”

    The "kill switches" would make the phones less appealing to thieves.  But Schneiderman says  there's also little incentive for manufacturers and even the service providers, who are not cooperating. 

  “We discovered that [cell phone manufacturers] were making $30 billion per year replacing lost and stolen smartphones, and that seems to us to be a more serious reason for their reluctance [to consider implementing kill-switches]. We also confronted the fact that when one manufacturer wanted to install very strong kill-switch technology, they got resistance from the carriers – the phone services – who make money selling insurance for your smartphone,” Schneiderman said.

 That's why he says the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act is needed to require kill-switches on all smartphones.  Congressman Dan Maffei is a co-sponsor.

Schneiderman believes the manufacturers are willing to cooperate with pressure from the federal government. He says he expects change within six to eight months.