Lawmaker proposes smart phone "kill switch" to deter violent thefts

Lawmaker proposes smart phone "kill switch" to deter violent thefts
Phil Roeder

Forget pick-pocketing. The street crime of today is "apple picking" -- thefts that target smartphones like Apple's iPhone.

It hit at the University of Minnesota campus, which has seen a high-profile wave of violent robberies targeting students' phones and laptops. And last week, it hit at the Mall of America, where thieves snatched recent mayoral contender Mark Andrew's iPhone off of a table, and then beat him over the head when he tried to chase after them.

Cue the lawmakers.

See Also:
- Here's what Mark Andrew looked like after he was beaten bloody by robbers at MOA [PHOTO]
- U of M crime: Students threaten to "take matters into our own hands," demand more cops

There's an idea out there that would make stolen smart phones less attractive to thieves: A remote "kill switch" to deactivate the phone, turning it into not much more than a fancy collection of parts.

Now, the kill switch could be coming to Minnesota. State Rep. Joe Atkins announced Thursday that he will introduce a bill for the upcoming legislative session requiring smartphones to have the feature.

Atkins first started considering a measure in May, around the same time he heard that nearly one in three robberies nationwide involve phones. Then, the crimes started hitting closer to home.

"If there was any reluctance about bringing legislation forward, that all went away when I saw what was going on at the U of M, and then what happened to Mark Andrew," says Atkins, who chairs the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. "It's quite evident that what's happening in other parts of the country is on its way to Minnesota, and not just the increased thefts but the increasingly violent way in which they're taking place."

Manufacturers already have the capacity to build-in the kill switch, and Samsung has proposed adding it to phones. (Apple, which has more control over its products beginning-to-end, has already implemented a similar feature, the Activation Lock). But carriers are less excited about the idea, arguing that the technology is hackable. Advocates counter that those carriers profit from stolen phones via insurance plans and sales of replacement phones, as CNN reports.

While no state in the country has passed this kind of law, California and New York are considering similar measures.

Our own Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pushing the issue on the federal level. On Monday, she sent a letter to the five biggest cellphone carriers, asking them to address the surge in phone thefts and requesting more information on the kill switch technology.

"I believe additional action to protect wireless consumers is necessary," Klobuchar wrote. "The status quo is not acceptable."

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