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Prosecutors push for 'kill switch' to prevent smartphone thefts

A woman looks at her smartphone prior to the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland May 18, 201
A woman looks at her smartphone prior to the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland May 18, 201

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In a push to curb cellphone thefts, prosecutors for New York state and the city of San Francisco said on Wednesday they plan to meet with industry representatives to urge them to install switches to disable stolen smartphones.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said they will meet on June 13 with representatives of the four largest smartphone manufacturers.

They said they will ask the industry to place "kill switches" on mobile devices to render them inoperable when stolen, eliminating any incentive for theft.

"With 1.6 million Americans falling victim to smartphone theft in 2012, this has become a national epidemic," Gascon said in a statement. "Unlike other types of crimes, smartphone theft can be eradicated with a simple technological solution."

Gascon and Schneiderman said representatives of Apple Inc, Google Inc's smartphone maker Motorola Mobility, Samsung Electronics and Microsoft Corp would attend the summit in New York.

Last month, two men in San Francisco severely cut a 27-year-old tourist's face and throat while robbing his iPhone. In April 2012, a 26-year-old chef was killed while being robbed of his iPhone on his way home to the Bronx.

"The theft of handheld devices is the fastest-growing street crime, and increasingly, incidents are turning violent," Schneiderman said. "It's time for manufacturers to be as innovative in solving this problem as they have been in designing devices that have reshaped how we live."

Representatives for Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Google and a cellphone trade group either declined to comment or were not immediately available for comment.

Gascon and Schneiderman have both criticized the cellphone industry for what they perceive as its perceived unwillingness to solve the escalating problem.

About 50 percent of San Francisco robberies involved stolen mobile devices last year, Gascon said. A recent study found that lost and stolen cellphones cost consumers $30 billion in 2012, his office said.

Some companies have measures in place to reunite smartphones with their rightful owners. For instance, Apple has the application Find My iPhone which allows a user to track a missing device on a map and remotely lock it or erase data.

A nationwide database has been created for stolen cellphones, but law enforcement officials say its use is limited because many stolen devices are shipped overseas or modified so they cannot be easily identified as stolen, according to a New York Times report from May.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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