New Law Could Help End Phone Theft

Aug 26 at 2pm

Although outnumbered in San Francisco three-to-one by bike thefts, stolen smartphones are a scourge of modern living. In spite of having become a CVS, the corner of Seventh and Market has been a stolen-iPhone emporium for years. That might start to change, now that the kill-switch law was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday.

According to KTVU, Senator Mark Leno’s bill mandates that by next July, all smartphones sold in California come with anti-theft technology that allows the rightful owner to lock and wipe their stolen phones (and, on the off chance that phone makes its way back to you, to undo it.) There is some urgency to making theft unappealing, since 3.1 million phones were stolen in the US in 2013, twice as many as the year before.

The newly signed bill is different than the Secure Our Smartphones initiative proposed last year by New York State Attorney Eric Schneiderman and SF District Attorney George Gascón, one which would require phones to be made with hard kill switch that would make a stolen phone completely inoperable, even if it were later recovered. Leno's kill-switch law would hypothetically allow the rightful owner to turn the phone back on, but as some are noting, the technical details of how this would work haven't been released.

Even though kill-switch technology has existed for awhile, there was stiff resistance from the tech industry, for whom stolen phones represent a lucrative proposition. (Since you’re unlikely to get your phone back, you have to go out and buy another.) However, California being a big kahuna, Leno's office told KTVU that manufacturers are now going to apply the same standards nationwide. That’s San Francisco progressivism in action, helping out the whole country.

Why are cell phone thefts on the rise? Many people no longer wear watches, and in an increasingly post-cash society, stuffed wallets are becoming a rarity. A smartphone is the most lucrative object most people routinely carry around – such that phone thefts constitute two-thirds of all robberies in San Francisco. (If your bike gets stolen while you’re not riding it, it’s larceny and not robbery.) And three years ago, SF Weekly noted, California state law raised the threshold for grand theft from $400 to $950. That meant a nice reduction in felonies for the SFPD, since when some jerkface steals your Galaxy S3, it’s just a misdemeanor now.

Although the SFPD has used surveillance technology to track cell phones’ locations and the metadata related to calls and texts, when it comes to theft, their official position basically amounts to “Don’t use your phone in public.” That is simply not possible in 2014. (If you ever see me on the sidewalk, I’m usually playing Words With Friends while sexting and walking into No Parking signs.) Being safe and street-smart is the most important thing, but at least now the incentive to pick your pocket is going down.

[Via: KTVU; image via Thinkstock]

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