Local lawmakers want phone companies to consider "kill switches" for smartphones.
Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor says too many people are being robbed, hurt and even murdered for their smartphones and that phone manufacturers and wireless carriers need to come up with ways to remotely kill stolen devices.
“Our citizens are literally dying for smartphones,” Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane said at a news conference inside Philadelphia City Hall on Monday.
At that news conference, Kane, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Councilwoman Blondelle Reynolds-Brown announced they are signing on to the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S) initiative.
The nationwide project spearheaded by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is asking smartphone makers to develop a "kill switch" that would disable stolen smartphones and tablets.
The coalition, made up of more than 80 lawmakers, says that would cut down on the number of thefts, also called "Apple picking" for the popularity of Apple devices, and related crimes because the devices could not be sold or reused.
"The idea is that the smartphone needs to be like a credit card. The incentive to take the phone has to be eliminated because they know it can just be canceled," Schneiderman said.
Philadelphia has the highest number of smartphone thefts in the nation, according to officials. So far this year, there have been 3,587 thefts involving cell phones in the city.
"Smartphone theft is a growing epidemic for in cities and towns across the United States of America accounting for more and more robberies on our streets," Nutter said.
Nutter says smartphone thefts account for 12.8-percent of the total thefts in Philadelphia. That's up from 11.2-percent from the year before.
The mayor added that while rates for other major crimes like homicides have been dropping recently, these types of thefts are growing and must be stopped.
A number of the thefts have taken place on mass transit lines. SEPTA launched a public awareness campaign in March to remind riders to be more mindful when using their devices on trains and buses. Officials also encouraged riders to download tracking applications.
As Kane noted, these types of thefts can turn dangerous or even deadly.
A young father was gunned down during an early morning robbery outside a South Philadelphia bakery in late September. In that case, the thief demanded the man's cell phone and backpack and then opened fire
In April, a pharmacist, walking home from work through Society Hill, had his iPhone stolen at gunpoint. He gave up the phone, but then chased the robber, who eventually opened fire, hitting the man.
While topping the list, Philadelphia is not alone. San Francisco saw a 50-percent spike in smartphone thefts last year and in New York there was a 40-percent jump, according to officials.
Certain smartphones and tablets have remote tracking, locking and data wiping capabilities, but officials say the phones can still be repourposed and reused or sold through recycling kiosks. They say a nationwide standard is necessary to ensure all phones can be stopped from being pirated.
Kane said customers spend $30 billion a year replacing stolen smartphones and that the money generated by those sales is an incentive for manufactures to not install kill switches.
"But we know that they are better than that," she said. "We know that they are citizens of this Commonwealth and this nation and that they will do more to protect their consumers and make sure that profit does not come before lives."