Political pressure put the heat on cell phone snatchers, in part because of a bill introduced by state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).
Hevesi has been pushing service providers and manufacturers to explore new ways to combat smartphone and tablet thieves by constructing a doomsday switch that could remotely wipe any device clean. He introduced a bill on the subject back in March along with several other pieces of legislation drafted across the country and celebrated an agreement to reform this week.
The lawmaker announced one of the industry’s largest technology trade groups, CTIA-the wireless organization, tapped companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung and five of the country’s largest cellular carriers to sign an agreement that would require all new models of smartphones and tablets manufactured after July 2015 to include a kill switch capability at no additional cost. Until now, such technology was only available to consumers at a cost, either through third-party apps or other independent means.
“This is a victory not only for consumers in New York and across the country, but also for law enforcement officials that have been grappling with growing smartphone and tablet theft,” Hevesi said.
Smartphone and tablet thieves have run amuck in recent years, especially in New York, where nearly half of all crimes were related to the act. Couple that trend with the consumer’s inability to remotely wipe their devices clean of personal data, and Hevesi said it was a recipe for disaster that desperately needed industry reform.
In New York City alone, the Police Department has amped up its efforts in combating smartphone or tablet theft as it became more prevalent. The NYPD cited a recent study that concluded $30 billion worth of cell phones were stolen in 2011 alone, and such devices have remained at the top of the most common types of property stolen citywide.
Borough precincts have also been encouraging residents to register their devices with their local precinct, which would come in handy if their devices were ever stolen.
Hevesi and state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) teamed up and introduced his bill to the Assembly in March, known as the Smartphone and Tablet Security Act, which was referred to the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee soon after.
It would be a milestone fix, Hevesi said, that could protect consumers from having personal information stolen from them and possibly even deter future crimes.
“I am pleased that major technology companies and cellular providers recognized the need to protect consumer interests by voluntarily choosing to install a kill switch in their products, and look forward to working with these companies in the future to ensure that consumers continue to receive the protections they deserve,” Hevesi said.
A similar piece of legislation was recently passed in the California state Senate, effectively requiring a kill switch be made accessible to smartphone and tablet users in any future purchases. Under that legislation, retailers who fail to provide such technology to consumers would be slapped with a $2,500 fine, the bill said.
By Phil Corso