Officials Say Major Carriers May Be Standing In The Way

NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — A hidden battle is being waged over smartphones. Last year, more than 1.5-million Americans had their devices stolen but some companies are against a simple solution.

It can happen anywhere, at anytime, thieves will do almost anything to get their hands on a smart phone.

“Here in San Francisco it’s very significant. It’s almost 50-percent of all of our robberies and thefts,” San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, said.

Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have pointed to ‘kill switches’ as a solution. The switch would disable a stolen phone and render it worthless to thieves.

When manufacturers rolled out smartphones with kill switches the five major carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular would not support them, law enforcement said. Gasco suspected that it could be because it would cut into big profits that phone companies make by selling anti-theft insurance and replacement phones.

“We’re talking about a $60-billion a year industry and about a half of that seems to be attached to the replacement of phones that are being stolen. So, we’re talking about a lot of money here,” Gascon said.

The wireless association which represents the service providers, said that they are working on alternatives to the kill switch.

“CTIA and its member companies worked hard over the last year to help law enforcement with its stolen phone problem,” the association said,”One of the components of the efforts was to create an integrated database designed to prevent stolen phones from being reactivated.”

Kill switches saved another hot product in the 1990s when car radio thefts were on the rise, CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois reported.

Car people and the radio got together and they said, “If you take the radio out of  a car it will never work in another car,” CBS News Correspondent John Miller explained.

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