New York Mulls New Anti-Theft Measures as Smartphone Thefts Continue to Surge

The New York City Council is considering a new measure to help fight iPhone and other smartphone thefts, in the form of a pawn shop bill that would require second hand dealers and pawn brokers to maintain easily accessible electronic records of purchased items, including photographs and serial numbers. Current law mandates non-electronic inventory records.

According to the New York Daily News, police believe such a measure would make it easier to search for stolen smartphones, Apple products, and other items, though pawn shop owners have opposed the bill, declaring it an invasion of customer privacy.

iPhone and iPad thefts continue to be a major issue for law enforcement, despite ongoing efforts to implement various theft deterrent programs. As noted earlier this year, in 2012 there were 16,000 "Apple picking" thefts in New York city, which accounted for 14 percent of all crime. As of last week, 45 percent of robberies involved cell phones, and half of those stolen devices were iPhones.

ios7_activation_lock
While Apple introduced Activation Lock with iOS 7, preventing stolen phones from being reactivated without an iCloud password, theft of Apple products continues to be an issue for users who have not activated iCloud or upgraded to iOS 7.

Both San Francisco district attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who have spearheaded anti-theft efforts, have praised Activation Lock, calling it the "world's first attempt to implement a technological solution to the global smartphone theft epidemic."

The two have also been pushing other cellphone makers to implement kill switches, allowing for the remote deactivation of a stolen phone. Yesterday, The New York Times reported Gascón had been working with Samsung on such an antitheft feature, but was running into trouble getting wireless carriers to cooperate.

While Apple has struck a deal with carriers that disallows them from controlling the software on iOS devices, other carriers, which ship with the Android operating system, do not have similar deals. Carriers are able to install proprietary software and have some measure of control over what manufacturers install on the phones as well.

Mr. Gascón said that, based on e-mails he had reviewed between a Samsung executive and a software developer, it appeared that the carriers were unwilling to allow Samsung to load the antitheft software. The emails, he said, suggest that the carriers are concerned that the software would eat into the profit they make from the insurance programs many consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones.

According to the CTIA, an industry trade group that represents carriers, kill switches are not an acceptable anti-theft solution, as it introduces a method for hackers to remotely disable phones. The CTIA and the four major wireless carriers in the United States have instead backed a centralized database designed to track stolen phones, but it has reportedly been largely ineffectual.

Gascón has said that he is evaluating what actions to take against the carriers for refusing to allow Samsung to implement a kill switch on its phones, and has said that he will force them to "prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets."

As for the pawn shop bill, it remains under consideration. New York City lawmakers have also recently introduced legislation that would make it illegal for businesses to sell used smartphones without obtaining proof of ownership.

Top Rated Comments

JAT Avatar
92 months ago

The thief can just restore, unlock, jailbreak the phone. Then it can be "safely" connected to the internet again.

Actually he doesn't have to go to China to do that. Given the pathetic cellular signal in the US, he just need a basement.

Advice: I think you need to read up on Activation Lock before posting again.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Ryth Avatar
92 months ago
Catch them..cut off their hands.

Worked in the past...would work now.

No real deterrence for crime nowadays.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
abhishake Avatar
92 months ago
I can attest to this - my iPhone 5 just got stolen off a table I was seated outside on the patio of the restaurant.

Guy took off with it. Two dudes running - I chase in a full suit. They diverge, I go after the one who stole my phone. Catch him - he says he has my phone (the other kid is across the street and takes off). I focus my attention on the taker, check his pockets, no phone. Gone and will never see it again.

Spoke with the detective who said next time don't do that unless it's your wife/children/family - what if he had knife or a gun?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheKrs1 Avatar
92 months ago

What if the thief shuts off the phone the minute he steals it, then takes the stolen phone to China where there is no US cellular signal at all, and of course without wifi, then turns on the phone. Your phone would have totally no idea that it has been stolen. It will happily tell the thief whatever information you have in it.

... Activation Lock would still be in place. The thief wouldn't be able to wipe the device and use it for themselves without the icloud login info of the rightful owner.

I'm hoping they have a passcode lock in place as well.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jjwarwick Avatar
92 months ago
Is there no such thing as IMEI blocking in the US ?

In Europe, your operator can block your IMEI number so your phone becomes useless right across Europe.

People don't really bother stealing phones as they know they'll get blocked.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
pubwvj Avatar
92 months ago
I have found a foolproof way of avoiding getting my stuff stolen in NYC: don't go to NYC!
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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