S.F., N.Y. join smartphone theft summit 

click to enlarge smartphone robberies
  • Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Smartphone robberies accounted for half of the robberies in San Francisco last year; nationally, one in three robberies involves a cellphone.

After months of back and forth about the role cellphone makers could play in preventing thefts around the nation, top companies will sit down with District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to address the rampant robberies.

Officials with Apple Inc., Google Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Microsoft Corp. are scheduled to meet with the top law enforcement officials June 13 at Schneiderman's New York office, the officials announced Wednesday.

Gascón said he and Schneiderman will pressure industry leaders to develop technology that would render stolen devices inoperable after thefts.

"Smartphone theft can be eradicated with a simple technological solution," said Gascón, adding that thieves would have no incentive to steal the devices if they were not worth anything.

Next week's meeting, which has been dubbed the Smartphone Summit, comes months after Gascón raised the issue during a March interview with The San Francisco Examiner. He publicly chastised industry giants for what he called an inadequate response to increasing thefts.

Nearly one out of three robberies nationwide involves the theft of a mobile phone, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The phones accounted for about half of San Francisco's robberies last year, police data show.

Last month, Gascón wrote a letter urging the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a coalition of police chiefs from across the country, to press for kill switches, which would be able to remotely deactivate a phone if it were stolen.

In response, the police chiefs' association sent its own letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, suggesting that a kill switch is "the only effective way" to stop thefts.

"By rendering phones completely useless, an FCC mandate for kill-switch technology will drastically reduce this major crime problem," wrote Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, president of the chiefs' association.

The technology goes beyond the national registry solution agreed upon last year by industry players, the federal government and local law enforcement agencies. The registry allows theft victims to enter their phone's identification number into a database. Service providers accessing that database can then deny any request to activate the phone.

The database's effectiveness has limitations, however, because stolen phones can still be activated by carriers that are not participating in the registry, and many devices are immediately shipped overseas for resale, law enforcement officials say.

Gascón has accused the telecommunications industry of greed, noting that companies make money when a theft victim has to purchase another phone.

Cellphone manufacturers and carriers "continue to look the other way" even though many of the thefts have been violent, Gascón said.

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