Gascón, Schneiderman meet with cellphone makers to push for anti-phone theft measures 

click to enlarge George Gascon
  • Bebeto Matthews/AP
  • San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, center, announces the formation of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative along with public safety officials and people such as Paul Boken, third from left, whose daughter was killed in a smartphone robbery.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday that law enforcement officials nationwide are demanding the creation of a kill switch that would render smartphones inoperable after they are stolen.

Citing statistics showing that 1 in 3 robberies nationwide involve the theft of a mobile phone, Schneiderman announced the formation of a coalition of law enforcement agencies devoted to stamping out what he called an "epidemic" of smartphone robberies.

"All too often, these robberies turn violent," said Schneiderman at the New York news conference with Gascón. "There are assaults. There are murders."

The coalition, called the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, includes prosecutors, police, political officials and consumer advocates from more than a dozen states. It will pressure smartphone companies and their shareholders to help dry up the secondary market in stolen phones.

The announcement came on the same day Gascón and Schneiderman co-hosted a "Smartphone Summit" with representatives from major smartphone makers Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

"This afternoon we had an opportunity to hear what manufacturers are doing to protect consumers and honor the commitments they have made to their customers," Gascón and Schneiderman said in a joint statement. "It also provided the manufacturers with an opportunity to hear our expectations regarding the timeline and parameters of what we call the 'kill switch solution.'"

The two said Apple and Samsung "have taken steps in the right direction," but that other cellphone makers have "more work to do to protect consumers from violent street crimes."

Apple said at a developers' conference this week that such a feature would be part of its iOS7 software to be released in the fall.

"Apple has been very vague as to what the system will do," Gascón said at the news conference earlier Thursday. "We've been led to believe that it is not a kill switch."

Gascón was particularly critical of Apple, saying that he had met with the company in January but was rebuffed by executives.

"The industry has a moral and social obligation to fix this problem," Gascón said.

To drive home their point about the danger of violent smartphone thefts, authorities introduced relatives of 23-year-old Megan Boken, who was shot and killed in St. Louis in 2012 by an assailant who was trying to steal her iPhone.

Boken was chatting with her mother on the phone at the time, said her father, Paul Boken.

"All of a sudden, the phone went blank," he told reporters. "Megan never picked the phone up again."

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