iPhone Rumors, Mobile Innovation

New York Lawmakers Want a Smartphone “Kill Switch”

Phone thief stealing a womanWhen it comes to smartphones, there are a variety of different protective measures that users can take to safeguard their devices and the data those devices contain. Cell phone wallet cases, like the ones offered through eHolster, are a great way to protect these expensive pieces of hardware from drops, falls, water damage, and other outside threats. Meanwhile, password protection discourages theft. However, despite such protective measures, smartphone-related crimes have skyrocketed around the world in recent years. The fact is the mobile devices, from iPhones to Samsung Galaxy phones beyond, are valuable commodities, and they’ve become a target for thieves.

In fact, criminals have become so fixated on the smartphone phenomenon that politicians throughout the country are considering legislation that would call for a “kill switch” on mobile devices. Such “kill switch” legislation would require mobile device developers to install a sort of failsafe on their smartphones and tablets that would allow owners to automatically and permanently shut down the devices in the case of a theft. In essence, the action of activating of a phone’s kill switch would function in the same fashion as cancelling a credit card, shutting the phone down from a remote distance and rendering it useless to the thieves who stole it.

Smartphone Crime: The Roots of “Kill Switch” Legislation

Studies have shown that over 1.5 million smartphone-related crimes were committed in 2012, a number that will undoubtedly increase as phones continue to reach higher in terms of technological advancement and overall monetary value. Already, almost half of all robberies are committed in the pursuit of stealing smartphones. Clearly, smartphone crime has become a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

One victim of a particularly tragic smartphone-related crime was Megan Boken, a young St. Louis woman was shot and killed while sitting in her car and talking to her mother on her smartphone. Boken’s killers were after one thing: the small computer in her hand, which they were hoping to steal and sell overseas. The two men responsible for the crime were ultimately apprehended and both pleaded guilty to charges of murder.

A Political Movement

However, Boken’s story won’t end with the sentencing of her killers. Instead, Boken’s death has become the lightning rod for a political movement that is working to fight smartphone crime. On Monday, March 3rd, Boken’s parents joined New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a press conference, where the politician announced plans to introduce legislation in Congress calling for mobile device kill switches. In Schneiderman’s estimation, “Thieves are not going to stop stealing smartphones until they know that smartphones are all worthless.”

Schneiderman isn’t the first person to call for kill switches, or to suggest that thieves would be less likely to target mobile devices if they knew that they were only stealing expensive paperweights. According to CBS News, numerous states are currently considering kill switch legislation independently, including California and Illinois.

The Dangers of a Mobile Kill Switch

The concept is certainly an intriguing one, and could stand to make it safer for people to walk around with hundreds of dollars worth of expensive hardware in their pocket. However, a government mandate for kill switches might not be the best thing, as there is little indication that mobile device developers have the technology to install them just yet. After all, a rushed kill switch function could feasibly be more dangerous than no kill switch at all.

As a Verizon Wireless lawyer told the Senate just before Schneiderman announced his legislative campaign, a terrorist or cybercriminal could potentially gain access to the kill switch system and shut down hundreds of thousands of phones in one fell swoop. If kill switch technology is indeed going to take up residence in mobile devices, then it is going to demand months or years of testing to ensure unbreakable security.