Smartphone Kill Switch Decreases Thefts

SmartphoneSmartphone thefts, especially iPhones are on the decrease in San Francisco, New York and London, due to the addition of a kill switch, according to information released Wednesday. Law enforcement authorities, who have been responsible for the impetus to install a kill switch in smartphones, lauded the announcement as evidence that this addition is a successful deterrent.

In London smartphone thefts from individuals fell 40 percent this past year, In San Francisco, smartphone related thefts decreased 27 percent during the period between 2013 and 2014, while overall robberies and thefts decreased by only 22 percent. And New York iPhone thefts fell by 25 percent while smartphone theft decreased by 16 percent.

Eric Scheiderman, New York State’s Attorney General attributes the large drops in the theft of the devices to the introduction of the kill switch to the market. He points to the drop as evidence that the strategy has made cities and people across the world safer.

When a phone is stolen or lost a software lock or kill switch can be activated remotely. It can also delete personal information from a phone, which renders the phone unusable.

In reaction to an increasing number of robberies and thefts related to smartphones on U.S. streets across the nation and elsewhere.Law enforcement authorities lobbied to make the switches mandatory. The theory being that phones that could swiftly be made useless, would be less desirable commodities.

Apple included a kill switch, known as Activation Lock in the fall of 2013. Samsung followed suite with the Galaxy S5 in the spring of 2014. Google then added it as a standard feature along with its release of lollipop.

In the future the majority of smartphones for sale, will have a kill switch due to a recent law in California that requires them in every one made after July 2015 and sold in California. Even though the law currently only pertains to California, it is leading to their inclusion in phones sold all over the world.

George Gascon, the San Francisco District Attorney, along with Schneiderman spearheaded the law enforcement work on the kill switch, greeted the news enthusiastically and stated he expects to see a continuing decrease in thefts as the kill switch is incorporated into more phones. The wireless business at first opposed the attempts, but later changed its mind. Large U.S. carriers are also being more cooperative with sharing stolen phone information so they will not be activated on U.S. networks and overseas networks whether or not they have a kill switch.

According to William Bratton, the New York Police Commissioner, the significant decrease in smartphone thefts is no coincidence since the introduction of the kill switch. He added that limiting the salability of stolen electronic devices and cell phones has a direct connection to a decrease of violence and related crimes.

In California, where the law requiring kill switch installation has not yet become effective , smartphone thefts are decreasing due to several manufacturers’ early adoption of kill switch software in the products they sell, according to Gascon. He further added that while the industry continues to develop increasingly sophisticated technology, keeping their individual customers from becoming violent crime targets is the best feature they can introduce to the marketplace.

The California law, which is one of the country’s toughest , garnered widespread support from California law enforcement and legal communities which believed it could assist in the reduction of crimes. The National Consumer League, said that 1.6 million Americans had wireless devices stolen during 2012. More than 50 percent of all crime in California cities, like Oakland and San Francisco among others , can be attributed to the theft of smartphones.

Minnesota lawmakers pushed through an anti-theft kill switch law last year to decrease smartphone thefts, while other states with increasing smartphone related crime are contemplating doing the same. But several of the smartphone schemes leave it up to the customer to choose to activate the kill switch option. This would mean that not everyone would have kill switch protection if they opted out of that feature. Gascon and others have asked smartphone makers to activate the technology by default, the way Apple did with the iPhone.

By Gerald Sowell

Sources:

PC World

USA Today

Reuters

Photo By Maurizio Pesce – License

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