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Cellphone 'kill switch' leads to sharp declines in theft

It was announced Tuesday that international efforts to implement “kill switches” in all smart phones, which allow mobiles to be turned off remotely, have led to major declines in the crime in three major cities.

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State Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, uses his smart phone at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Cannella joined fellow lawmakers in approving a measure, SB962 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requiring all new smart phones come equipped with a "kill switch," that disables the device if lost or stolen.

Rich Pedroncelli

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“Kill switches” in smart phones, which allow mobile devices to be locked down remotely, have led to a sharp decline in theft in three major cities, according to authorities.

After Apple added the metaphorical switch in 2013, iPhone thefts dropped by 50 percent in London, 40 percent in San Francisco, and 25 percent in New York.

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In an internationally coordinated effort, London Mayor Boris Johnson, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman were three of numerous officials who pushed for laws mandating the technology in the manufacturing process of smart phones.

“We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago,” says Mr. Johnson in a joint press release.

The overall drop in smart phones theft was at 27 percent in San Francisco and 16 percent in New York, while the drop rate remained the same in London, according to local authorities.

“After meeting with families who had lost loved ones to violent robberies targeting their smartphones, we decided to raise the alarm about smartphone theft and called on the industry to adopt kill switch technology,” Mr. Schneiderman says in the same release.

In 2012, 1.6 million handheld devices were stolen from Americans. More than half of all crimes in many California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, involved a stole smart phone, according to the National Consumers League.

“The wireless industry continues to roll out sophisticated new features, but preventing their own customers from being the target of a violent crime is the coolest technology they can bring to market,” Mr. Gascón goes on to write.

Minnesota was the first state to pass a “kill switch” law, but officials believe California’s version, which is considered stronger, should be the example. The law mandates that companies activate the switch for consumers, and then show them how to disable or opt-out of the anti-theft measure.

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Apple, Samsung, and Google have already employed the kill switch into their mobile devices, and, according to a news release, Microsoft has plans to implement the security measure in its new Windows Phone operating system, which will release sometime this year.

Johnson, Gascón, and Schneiderman are still encouraging manufacturers to follow Apple’s example and have the kill switch set to active by default.