To prevent theft, a push for cell phone 'kill switches'

In an effort to combat cell-phone theft, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his Pennsylvania counterpart, Kathleen Kane, came to City Hall today to call on smartphone makers to install "kill switches" in their products. 

Schneiderman last spring helped launch the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, which he called "an effort to force a group of corporate citizens to do the right thing."

The kill switches he is seeking would work like cancelling a stolen credit card: Customers would be able to call a number and disable the phone, preventing thieves from "jail-breaking" the devices and reselling them. 

"The incentives to take the phone has to be eliminated," Schneiderman said. 

He said cell-phone companies make $30 billion per year on replacing lost or stolen cell phones, a big reason to drag their feet on the initiative. Still, he has met with the four major phone manufacturers and has seen some progress.

The newest iPhone has an optional kill switch feature that customers can choose to activate. Schneiderman would rather the switches be universal but was happy to see some movement on the issue.

The attorneys general were joined by Mayor Nutter, who said cell-phone thefts have accounted for 12.8 percent of total thefts in Philadelphia this year, up from 11.2 percent in 2012. Those thefts are rising, Nutter said, despite crime rates decreasing overall.