Mobile carriers slammed for rejecting smartphone 'kill switch'

Law enforcement officials in New York and San Francisco called the carriers' response 'highly disturbing'

Law enforcement officials trying to rein in violent smartphone theft have criticized cellular operators who they say rejected a solution that would help address the problem.

"It is highly disturbing that these corporations rejected a proposal that would have helped keep millions of consumers safe," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a joint statement Wednesday.

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The officials have been pushing for a "kill switch" that could render smartphones inoperable after they're stolen, reducing the incentive for crime. But news reports this week suggested carriers have rejected the idea.

"If they did so to protect their own profit margins, as several recent reports suggest, it is even more egregious," the pair said in their statement.

"Companies that choose to prioritize profits over safety put consumers everywhere at risk. Since smartphone thefts so often result in violence, we call on manufacturers and carriers alike to make the opt-out kill switch an industry-wide standard."

The carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, United States Cellular and Sprint, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mobile industry group CTIA rejects the kill switch and said customers are offered a list of apps to download that will remotely erase, track and lock stolen devices.

Robberies involving smartphones have been increasing across the U.S., and in many major cities they now make up the majority of serious street crime. In many cases, victims are physically attacked or threatened with knives or guns for their phones.

The two officials have had some success with Apple and Samsung. Apple designed new security features into the latest version of its iOS operating system and Samsung is shipping new handsets with a security software package installed.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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