Police Want ‘Kill Switch’ To Disable Smartphones

Police want ‘kill switch’ to disable stolen mobiles as phone crime soars (Daily Mail, June 8, 2013):

  • Smartphone manufacturers under pressure to create a ‘kill switch’
  • Stolen mobiles would be rendered worthless
  • Thefts of phones stolen rockets to rate of 300 a day
Smartphone manufacturers are under pressure from police to create  a ‘kill switch’ to render stolen handsets worthless.At the moment, models such as Apple’s iPhone – which can cost more than £500 – are blocked by networks in Britain only when they are reported stolen. This means gangs can still ship them abroad to be reused.

Thefts of smartphones and tablet computers are soaring. In London, 111,059 mobile phones were stolen in 2012 – a rate of 300 a day. Included in that total were 61,024 iPhones and 22,296 BlackBerrys.

The crimewave has prompted police to hold high-level talks with technology firms about how to make their products less desirable to criminals.

Detective Chief Inspector Bob Mahoney, of the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, said: ‘We would like a kill switch on phones.

‘With the iPhone, for example, what would be great is if there was a button within iTunes to block that phone from being used.’

Currently, phones do not have this function, so although a victim can  get their handset blocked by British network providers, it will continue to work overseas.

Senior figures believe there is a thriving market for stolen devices in Africa.

There have been similar calls for a kill switch in the United States, but it is thought that technology firms fear it could be used accidentally or maliciously to wrongly disable phones.

Phone giants have also been urged to make it easier for mugging victims  to track down their handsets.

Many police forces carry iPads in patrol cars and vans – officers can use location apps to catch thieves red-handed with stolen devices. But it is easy for criminals to disable tracking devices by turning the phone off.

Many Apple users install software called Find My iPhone, which pinpoints the whereabouts of their handset if lost or stolen. Samsung’s popular Galaxy range contains a similar function called Mobile Tracker.

But the systems work only when the phone is switched on, and thieves can turn it off without needing to know the owner’s security passcode.

Marc Rogers, an expert at mobile security firm Lookout, said: ‘A kill switch is an interesting concept but it has far-reaching ramifications.

‘Any kind of solution like this must be implemented with extreme caution to ensure it cannot be activated by malicious hackers or cyber-criminals who decide that they want to “kill” all the phones in London, for example.’

Apple and Samsung declined to  comment.

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