U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has today taken up a call to arms, so to speak, as she is urging wireless carriers to enable new anti-theft technology on handsets. According to the popular Senator, one-third of robberies involve a cell phone theft, this results in an estimated $30 billion in stolen or lost handsets. Klobuchar wants to stop this trend and quickly, as she has written a letter to the heads of the top major wireless carriers in the US; Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.
In this letter, she has requested an explanation as to why “the most advanced security features” haven’t been provided to consumers. Recently Apple updated their iOS software, it now includes an Activation Lock feature inside Find My iPhone. This technically works as a kill switch, requiring a pass code to reactive an account, wipe the device, turn off Find My iPhone, or sign out of iCloud. It was reported last month by The New York Times, that Samsung was trying to bring a similar technology to handsets but carriers rejected it.
And it no wonder as the carriers make money from insurance policies protecting against lost or stolen phones, which has become a huge issue in major cities. Police have given iPhone theft a title: Apple picking.
Here is the letter in full:
Dear Messrs. McAdam, Stephenson, Hesse, Legere, and Meyers:
I am writing to express my concern regarding the increase in crimes involving the theft of mobile devices across the country. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, I understand that consumers are utilizing more mobile technology and this is spurring growth in our economy. Unfortunately, more and more consumers are also at risk of being targeted by criminals looking to steal cell phones and other devices for illegal resale. I appreciate the work the industry has done in creating a database to keep stolen phones from being reactivated, but more action is needed.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, almost one-in-three robberies involve phone theft and the cost to consumers of lost or stolen phones is more than $30 billion each year. I’ve heard from local law enforcement officials about the continued call for the wireless industry to engage with them further and to adopt “kill switch” technologies on devices. Additionally, state Attorneys General have suggested that wireless carriers have not taken adequate steps to fight cell phone theft.
As Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, I expect wireless carriers to compete against one another to ensure consumers are offered the most advanced security features and offerings. Your five companies are the nation’s leading wireless carriers, collectively serving more than 90 percent of the nation’s wireless subscribers. With that market share comes an obligation to do all you can to utilize technologies available to protect consumers.
While I understand your companies are continuing to work with law enforcement on the stolen cell phone database, it is clear that consumers want and deserve a comprehensive strategy to prevent mobile device thefts. That is why I respectfully request that each of your companies provides my Judiciary Subcommittee detailed information on the following issues by January 9, 2014:
· Information explaining whether you have had offers by handset manufacturers to install “kill switch” technology, and, if so, why your company has or has not adopted such technology.
· Information about whether you have considered including this solution on handsets made by manufacturers now competing with Apple’s activation lock technology that operates as a “kill switch” on iPhones. If not, please describe your reasoning behind the decision made by your company.
· How your company will include such technology options at no cost to consumers in the future and how your phone security offerings differ from your competitors.
Identifying ways to curb mobile device theft is a top priority of mine and I will continue to advocate for the American wireless consumer. I also believe additional action to protect wireless consumers is necessary and that’s why I am asking you for this information. The status quo is not acceptable.
Will the carriers hear this request? It is doubtful, but who knows? Maybe they will sit up and listen. But even if they do, will it make a difference to the amount of thefts?
[Image via businessinsider]