DOJ to telcos: Have phone kill switches to prevent theft

MANILA, Philippines – The cybercrime office of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday, February 16, urged telecommunications companies to adopt a new practice of installing kill switches in smartphones in order to reduce theft of these gadgets.

A kill switch is an emergency shutdown mechanism, often activated in circumstances when a device or piece of machinery cannot be shut down normally.

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima noted, "We do not need legislation to implement this."

She said it was "the responsibility of telcos as public utilities to prevent crimes and to ensure that technology is used to address peace and order issues."

Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy, head of the cybercrime office, said: "It is a common sense solution to a specific type of crime. Commuters and consumer who work hard and save for their phones only to be victimized by criminals will benefit from a small effort from our telcos."

The statement by the DOJ cited a New York study that said mobile phone theft dropped as much as 40% following the introduction of the kill switch feature. 

According to a report from PCMag, cellphone thefts dropped 16% and iPhone thefts dropped 25% in New York City from January 2013 to December 2014 after manufacturers enabled kill switch features. In San Francisco, cellphone robberies went down 27% and iPhone thefts went down 40%.

In London, there was a 40% drop in smartphone thefts and a 38% drop in smartphone thefts involving violence or the threat of violence between October 2013 and October 2014. The kill switches reportedly resulted in 20,000 fewer victims annually – the number of phones stolen in London halved since September 2013.

A press release from the New York State Office of the Attorney General also pointed to the drops in the 3 areas.

Apple actually installed an activation lock feature in 2013 when it released iOS 7 for its iPhones. In April 2014, Apple and a number of major mobile phone makers – including Google, HTC, Microsoft, Samsung, and Motorola – promised to integrate kill switch technology on their phones. – Rappler.com

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.

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