Plea urges anti-theft phone tech

Cindy Chew/2005 S.F. Examiner file photoDespite a turnaround in public opinion

An online petition urging smartphone makers to install kill-switches in their devices was launched on Change.org on Thursday as top law enforcement officials continue their crusade to reduce robberies.

The petition to urge manufacturers to install technology that could disable stolen phones, which could make them less valuable, is part of a joint effort by District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman dubbed Secure our Smartphones.

The petition is addressed to the chief executives of major smartphone manufacturers and carriers, including Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook, and details the epidemic of cellphone robberies sweeping the nation.

“We have seen technology prevent crime in the past,” the letter said, citing a reduction in auto thefts in the 1990s after manufacturers created anti-theft technology.

Security firms say manufacturers and carriers already have the ability to implement a “kill switch” that would remotely disable phones, according to the petition.

“Mobile communications device manufacturers and carriers have an opportunity to end the victimization of millions of Americans and demonstrate their corporate responsibility by implementing a kill switch,” it said.

Nationwide, nearly one out of three robberies involves a cellphone, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In San Francisco, the ratio is even higher, with about half of all robberies last year involving such a device, police data show.

The Change.org effort came a day after Gascón and Schneiderman announced they are scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday with the representatives of major smartphone manufacturers in Schneiderman's New York office.

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