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KPBS Midday Edition

California First State To Pass Cellphone 'Kill Switch' Law

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California First State To Pass Cell Phone 'Kill Switch' Law
California First State To Pass Cell Phone 'Kill Switch' Law
California First State To Pass Cell Phone 'Kill Switch' Law GUESTS:George Garson, San Francisco District Attorney Lt. Kevin Mayer, San Diego Police Department

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Do you know where your smart phone is? If it's not in your purse or pocket, there's a good chance someone maybe running to swipe it. Smart phone thefts are up between 30% to 75% in California's largest cities. Now, a state bill has been signed into law that requires cell phone manufacturers to install it kill switch in every phone. It's supposed to render a stolen phone in operable, and therefore cut down on theft. But not everybody is convinced it will work. I would like to welcome my guests, George Garson and San Diego Police Lieutenant Kevin Mayer. George, why did you get involved in pushing this legislation? GEORGE GARSON: I actually started dealing with this issue about 2.5 years ago, when we saw a significant increase in the number of smart phone theft here in San Francisco, and some of those cases leading to violence. I started to talk to some of my other partners around the country, and everybody was experiencing the same thing. I had a meeting with the major carriers, and during that meeting he indicated there is no technology available to do the kind of things that I thought of that we could do. At that point I did some research and I realized they were not telling me the truth, I already talked to some technical people who told me it was very possible to create this technology, but the carriers at the time indicated it needed to be up to the fractures, and the next step I went to Apple and Samsung, initially I got resistance but Apple came around and they actually came up with the technology. Samsung did the same thing, and we became aware that the carriers told Samsung that they would not allow Samsung to put this technology in the phones being sold, and that led to a fight and we realized we needed legislation to do this, so that is how I became the sponsor for the legislation. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The numbers that you mention for cell phone thefts are very high, I read that 67% of all robberies involving cell phone. You mentioned violence, does this mean someone stealing phones by gunpoint? Are people being hurt? GEORGE GARSON: At times that has occurred. When we're talking about theft, we are often talking about robberies, which heard that means by force or fear. We have had people that have been robbed at gunpoint and people who have been stabbed, punched, and in other parts of the country people have actually lost their lives. One of the families I worked with to pass this legislation, their daughter was murdered as a result of a robbery for a cell phone. There had been murders in New York City and other parts of the world over cell phones. This is an area where violence is often the outcome of the robbery. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does a kill switch work? GEORGE GARSON: In the California model, basically it would be a solution embedded into the phone, and when you buy your phone, the phone automatically has the system set up for you. It will generally be driven by a username and a password. If the phone is lost or stolen, you will be able to use the username and password to get into the system and do several things. You can protect or wipe the data, you can put a message on the phone indicating that the phone has been lost and stolen and give your contact information, and more importantly, it would stop the phone from ever working again, and less you have the username and password with one exception, and that would be that you can always call 911. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The kill switch was part of this new legislation and new law, which in the future will be the default setting, not something that someone needs to opt into, is that right? GEORGE GARSON: That is correct, that is one of the last thresholds with the difference with the industry, the industry initially said the could not do it, then they started to do it but wanted it to be an opt in, meaning that you as the consumer would actually have to upload an application or go into settings, and we became aware that a lot of people even with iPhone applications, nearly half of the people were not activating the iPhone dock feature, for a variety of reasons, including that some people cannot figure out how that was done. We want to make it easy for the consumer, and if the consumer does not want it they can turn it off. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kevin Mayer, what do you think of this new law? Do you think it will help? LT. KEVIN MAYER: Any technology that can help people from being victimized is a good thing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What you have heard of it so far, do you think that the people who would steal a smart phone would take an extra step, and say wait, if these phones can be remotely deactivated, I will be able to use it, so it is not worth my time? LT. KEVIN MAYER: That is the goal for my experience. A few years ago, we had a significant rise in robberies and thefts of cell phones, and we found that businesses were popping up and writing these items with no questions asked, and I myself had made inquiries into different phone companies to see if there's a way that you could make a phone to be useless to anyone but the owner, that would in fact reduce crime. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: San Diego does not appear to have as high of an increase in cell phone theft as some of the other places in the Bay Area, I think there's a 70% increase in cell phone thefts up in Oakland. Is it going around here as well? LT. KEVIN MAYER: I ran some statistics, and I noticed in the last fiscal year, which ends at the end of June for us, comparing the last few years we have a 9% increase in cell phone robberies, and a 13% increase in cell phone thefts. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where are these thefts taking place in San Diego, school campuses? LT. KEVIN MAYER: Is not unique to San Diego, this is a national trend, everywhere, school campuses, out in the street, and my experience, people were walking down the street and getting robbed left and right. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Were some of these attacks violent? LT. KEVIN MAYER: They do cross into violence, we have people been beaten down over cell phones, and guns produced to rob people of cell phones, but the larger portion is just theft, it's left on a table and someone snatches it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Many people already have locking mechanisms on their cell phones, if they choose to use them. Don't use manage to get around those precautions? GEORGE GARSON: Here is that the early statistics are with the activation lock with the iPhones. Since Apple made the activation lock available, and understanding that probably about 50% of the people are not using them, because they don't know how to get to it or don't find the time to do it, we've seen a reduction of 38% in iPhone robberies in San Francisco. New York, at the same time period, had a 19% reduction, and London had a 34% reduction. At the same time, we all experienced a slight increase in the theft of Samsung products. Even in early stages, we are already seeing a behavior modification. We picked New York, San Francisco, and London, as we were the original partners in this project. We have been meticulously tracking crime down to the brand name of the phone, so we're already seeing modifications. We also know anecdotally, that some of the buyers of these phones, a lot of these phones are sold in bulk overseas, and some of the buyers would no longer take iPhones, because they anticipate a number of those would be unusable. We know that the technology works, there is no question that these are going to try to work around this, but frankly, this is no different than any other piece of technology where people try to hack into it, and manufacturers and developers are continuously looking for ways to overcome that problem. We have not seen a serious breach of iOS 7, which is the Apple operating system to date, and that product has been on the market for a year. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a couple of questions that have been brought up by critics of the law, they say that if the phone is stolen, turned off, or put in airplane mode, it will not receive a kill signal, and the phone will still be operable. GEORGE GARSON: That is not correct, the way that the technology works. For instance, with iOS 7, this is driven through the cloud. Using the username and password, he or she is shutting down the account and system that feeds into the phone. It doesn't matter, you could have the phone on and they will still shut it off. What you will not be able to do, with the find by phone feature, the phone has to be on to track that. But as soon as you turn the phone on, the system becomes available. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The second criticism is that the kill switch could be exploited by hackers who could randomly turn off smart phones. Do you see that as a problem? GEORGE GARSON: I don't, and there is no difference with the possibility of someone hacking into your bank account. If you are banking online, you have a username, a password, and you are bank is continually looking for ways to protect the system. Can it be hacked, I'm sure it can, but generally banks will look for ways to fix that. The principle is the same, yes people are trying to hack into your bank account, yes people try to hack into your credit card account or your cell phone, and they tried to do that today, people hack into your computers even if you don't have a kill switch. That is how malware gets out there. If you open up a way to your system to identify a source, you might get malware into your system. Putting that aside, the reality is, the technology is being applied by Apple, and I'm sure they will continue to evolve to protect consumers. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In the meantime, before the smart phone kill switch becomes embedded in smart phones that we buy, what tips can you offer listeners to prevent cell phone theft? LT. KEVIN MAYER: First, Pascoe protect your phone, activate any technology to prevent this that is available, but most important, the aware of your surroundings. A phone by its nature detracts us from doing that. You are texting, messaging, or talking and not paying attention to what is around you. Being aware of your surroundings, what is occurring around you, it will prevent you from being a victim. I know from personal experience, I have avoided being victimized twice because I'm aware of my personal credits. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When this is going to affect? GEORGE GARSON: The legislation would be in operation as of July 1 next year, and it would apply to any phone manufactured or sold up to that date. Inventory will not be impacted, to manufacturers it an opportunity to get rid of all inventory. If it's a secondhand dealer, or technology that can be opted in, it will be required, but if it's not, older phones will start fading from the marketplace eventually. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill making California the first state to require smartphones to offer a “kill switch.” San Francisco Democrat Sen. Mark Leno says the anti-theft technology would allow smartphone owners to render their devices useless if stolen.

Police leaders and San Francisco District Attorney George Garson pushed for the legislation saying it would be a deterrent to theft.

Don't Be A Theft Victim!

Tips For Protecting Your Electronic Device

Carry your device in a pocket or where it's not easily seen or in reach of others

Be smart about when and where you use your electronic device

Change the color of your earpiece so it's not identifying you are carrying an expensive electronic device.

Avoid sitting or standing near the doors of buses, trains or areas where someone might run off with your device

Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

According to Consumer Reports the number of victims of smartphone theft in the U.S. has gone from 1.6 million to 3.1 million between 2012–2013. In San Francisco, mobile communication theft accounts for 67 percent of all robberies. In Oakland that number is 75 percent. San Diego has also seen an increase in robberies involving smartphones.