Safety switch for smartphones

The best way of discouraging theft is taking away the value of the object that the thief wants. Following this criterion, millions of thefts of smartphones, many of them violent, can be prevented—if the telecommunications industry uses existing technology as a permanent security system for cell phones.

The authorities recognize the deterrence value of this system. A “kill switch” activated at the factory, which allows the owner to deactivate it remotely, will remove the incentive for stealing smartphones. Approximately 3 million phones are stolen each year and re-sold for between hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Therefore, law enforcement officials like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, District Attorney of San Francisco George Gascón, and Chiefs of Police William Bratton of New York and Charlie Beck of Los Angeles, among others, have called for the industry to install and activate this function on smartphones.

The industry is opposed to doing this. First, it flatly rejected this idea, which threatens the lucrative business of replacing millions of stolen phones and selling theft insurance. Instead, it put all its strength behind defeating bills that require it, as happened last week in Sacramento with the derailed bill S.B. 962. A few weeks ago, the industry finally agreed to include this function among the new apps on phones manufactured beginning on July 15. The problem is that it will be optional, like other apps, instead of being activated from the factory.

This makes a big difference when it comes to public safety.

While the potential that a phone can be re-sold exists, there will be the temptation of theft and phone owners could potentially be attacked. In this case, the industry should think about the safety of its customers and activate the kill switch from the factory, instead of greedily continuing to profit from thefts that, in addition to hurting customers, are endangering their lives.