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Cellphone kill switches kill cellphone snatchers

Mobes no longer worth stealing, San Francisco DA declares

By Thomas Claburn, 28 Jul 2017

Smartphone thefts have declined by 50 per cent in San Francisco since 2013, and by 22 per cent since last year, a decline that District Attorney George Gascón attributes to the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act.

The law, SB 962, signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 and implemented in 2015, requires smartphone manufacturers to make a kill switch – software or hardware that can render the mobile device inoperable when activated – available to device owners.

It was proposed because thieves became rather fond of stealing smartphones, which isn't all that surprising considering that smartphones typically retail for several hundred dollars.

In 2012, according to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million smartphones were stolen in the US. In 2013, that figure reached 3.1 million, an increase of 94 per cent.

The CTIA, a wireless industry group, initially opposed [PDF] the notion of a kill switch, but announced its "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" in April, 2014, once it became clear that ignoring the problem would not help.

San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) figures released on Thursday by Gascón's office indicate that robberies involving smartphones declined 22 per cent between 2015 and 2016 and 50 per cent compared to 2013.

Approximately 67 per cent of robberies in San Francisco in 2014 involved the theft of a mobile phone, according to the DA's Office.

smartphone theft data

The cops' stats for San Francisco phone thefts ... click to enlarge

"Because of this hard-fought legislation, stealing a smartphone is no longer worth the trouble, and that means the devices we use every day no longer make us targets for violent crime," said Gascón in a statement.

There may be other factors contributing to the decline in smartphone thefts, like overall crime trends. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of incidents of larceny in San Francisco declined 8 per cent, from 41,811 in 2015 to 38,436 last year, according to SFPD data. Property crime overall dropped 9 per cent during this period.

Nonetheless, the figures echo a 2014 report by the Secure Our Smartphones initiative (SOS), a coalition of law enforcement and government officials hellbent on smartphone kill switches.

During the first five months of 2014, after Apple in September, 2013, introduced its Activation Lock in iOS 7, iPhone thefts declined by 17 per cent in New York City while Samsung phone thefts shot up 51 per cent, the SOS report said.

Samsung got the message and introduced its Reactivation Lock in April, 2014. ®

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