A huge increase in cell phone theft has authorities calling for a “kill switch” for mobile devices that would deactivate phones when stolen.
In San Francisco, almost half of all thefts last year involved stolen cell phones. This epidemic of phone stealing has led San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to reach out to Silicon Valley in hopes of getting major cell phone makers to incorporate what he calls a “kill switch” into new phones. The feature would instantly disable a phone, making it worthless to thieves.
"We know that the technology can be developed to prevent this. This is more about social responsibility than economic gain," Gascon said.
Gascon says he has already talked with Apple and Google about putting the feature in their new phones. He added that he hopes to talk to Samsung soon. Unfortunately, Gascon described his discussion with Apple’s government liaison officer Michael Foulkes as “disappointing.”
Instead of implementing a kill switch option, the FCC and many mobile technology companies seem to prefer participation in a national stolen phone database. The database would register and locate stolen phones while giving law enforcement the technological resources to track them down. Participation in the database is optional at this time, but many believe it’s only a matter of time until legislation is passed making participation mandatory.
Jamie Hastings is a vice president of the wireless provider trade group CTIA. He says the national stolen phone database is a step in the right direction.
"Our members are now focusing their energies on the database and achieving the start-up goal by November,” Hastings said. “The important thing at this stage is to allow our members to execute the plan that all of the stakeholders agreed upon.”
The national database would be similar to one created in the UK by wireless trade company GSMA. Over 100 wireless companies from 43 different countries now participate in the program.
But Gascon says a database will require unnecessary money and years to develop.
"If a phone can be inoperable at the flick of a switch, then a database will become moot.
"For me, a technical solution is probably better than just a criminal solution," Gascon said. "We can always create more laws, but look at how long it already takes to prosecute somebody at the expense of the taxpayers?”