Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, introduced last month in U.S. Senate, would require smartphone makers to install kill switches that let consumers remotely delete data from stolen phones and render devices useless to thieves
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman joined Bronx Congressman José E. Serrano and NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton Monday in announcing new legislation, introduced by Serrano in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would require a kill switch on smartphones to deter thieves and help end the violent epidemic of smartphone thefts. Schneiderman also announced Bratton joined the "Secure Our Smartphones" (S.O.S.) initiative, an international coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs, attorneys general, public officials and consumer activists working to encourage the smartphone industry to implement meaningful solutions to stop the epidemic known as "Apple Picking" - the theft of popular mobile communications devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The House bill announced Monday follows the introduction of a similar bill announced last month by Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
The announcement was made at an event in New York where Schneiderman, Serrano and Bratton were joined by Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, and the family of Megan Boken, who was killed during a smartphone robbery in 2012.
"Since last May, the Secure Our Smartphones initiative has challenged carriers and manufacturers to install technology that would end the epidemic of violent smartphone thefts. I applaud Congressman Serrano for bringing this to the floor of the House and putting the smartphone industry on notice: Because the industry dragged its feet, Congress is poised to act on legislation that will put consumers ahead of profits," Schneiderman said. "I also want to thank Commissioner Bratton for his decades of service and welcome him to the initiative, which is helping to make our communities more secure and save lives."
"It is time for smartphone carriers and manufacturers to get serious about protecting the safety and security of their customers," Serrano said. "This legislation will ensure that consumers are empowered to protect themselves by rendering their smartphones useless in the hands of criminals. This is the most effective way to deter smartphone theft. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on this important issue, and am happy to join him in this effort."
Bratton said, "I am proud to be part of this global initiative that is focused on thwarting crimes mainly driven by smartphone theft. The NYPD is committed to protecting the public and combating crimes that affect citizens who opt to utilize new technology as a form of communication. This legislation appropriately calls for a collaborative effort amongst the cellphone manufacturers, consumers, and the law enforcement community in order to drastically reduce crimes associated with cell phone theft."
Klobuchar said, "Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims. This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private, protect their identity and finances, and render the phone inoperable to the thieves."
Even as most types of property crime are falling, in communities across the U.S. and the U.K., the theft of smartphones has spiked dramatically. In the U.S., one in three thefts involves a mobile communications device. Consumer Reports estimates 1.6 million Americans were victimized by smartphone thieves in 2012.
Last year, 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco targeted such a device. In New York City, the number was 20 percent, a 40 percent increase from the year before. In London, although crime overall is falling, offenses such as pickpocketing and bag snatches have risen by more than 15 percent this year. This is mainly driven by the theft of phones, with some 10,000 handsets stolen in the city every month.
Street-level thieves feed a massive global marketplace for stolen phones that is too large or lucrative for any single community to stop. Mobile devices that are reported stolen in the U.S. and no longer able to access domestic cell networks can be reactivated to work in foreign countries. In Hong Kong, for example, iPhones are worth upward of $2,000 apiece.
Launched earlier last year, the S.O.S. initiative is an international coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs, state and city comptrollers, and public safety activists co-chaired by Schneiderman, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Members of the initiative are committed to pressing the industry to find an effective way to combat the rise of often-violent robberies involving smartphones.