N.Y. officials join call for smartphone "kill switch"

6:36 AM, Mar 4, 2014   |    comments
Apple's new iPhone models. (Photo: Robert Deutsch USA TODAY)
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NEW YORK (CBSNews.com) -- As cell phones get more sophisticated, thefts have skyrocketed. On Monday, a New York congressman said he plans to sponsor a bill requiring a "kill switch" on new phones to make them useless to thieves.

Eighteen months ago, Megan Boken was sitting in her car in a St. Louis neighborhood. She was talking to her mom on her smartphone when she was shot and killed by a robber.

"These people had stolen cell phones before. They were going down the street looking for someone to get their cell phone," says Paul Boken, Megan's father. "They had experience taking cell phones and selling them, so the fact that she was on her cell phone is what made her a target."

Two men pleaded guilty to the murder.

In 2012, 1.6 million Americans were the victims of smartphone-related crimes. Forty percent of robberies involve smartphones, which can sell overseas for hundreds of dollars.

On Monday, the Bokens were with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is among the growing number of state officials who want mandatory kill switches in mobile devices. 

"Thieves are not going to stop stealing smartphones until they know that the smartphones are all worthless," Schneiderman said.

A "kill switch" allows owners to remotely erase data on stolen devices and make them inoperable. A "kill switch" requirement has been introduced in Congress, but wireless companies warn the technology could theoretically be used by criminals or terrorists to cut off phone communications.

"We are very concerned that this is also secure," Verizon Wireless lawyer Randal Milch said at a Senate hearing last week. "We don't want an instance where it is a hackable kill switch."

But New York Police Commissioner William Bratton points out the industry profits when owners replace or insure devices.

"They are making a fortune on this, and they do not want to lose it," Bratton said Monday. "Well, shame on them."

In addition to the congressional bill, several states, including California and Illinois, are also considering "kill switch" legislation. The size of those markets is making it harder for the wireless industry to resist.

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