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Carriers Are Fighting Anti-Theft Cell Phone 'Kill Switch'
by Karl Bode 12:41PM Friday Nov 29 2013
Back in April, wireless carriers and the government announced that they'd be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number, not just the SIM card ID). The goal is to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance.

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The move came after AT&T was sued for doing little to track or stop theft, the lawsuit alleging it was more profitable to do nothing and cash in on stolen phone re-activations. The lawsuit (and government prodding) spurred AT&T to develop new anti-theft tools, and carriers in general have been working hard to try and prove they care about cell phone theft.

Still, law enforcement has complained the database has proven ineffective because many phones wind up overseas. New York and San Francisco lawmakers have been eyeing the idea of a "kill switch" that would automatically render a phone useless once its owner has reported it stolen. However, according to the New York Times, city DAs say carriers are fighting the proposals because they'll lose money on stolen device re-activations:
Mr. Gascón said he is evaluating what action to take regarding the carriers’ refusal to allow Samsung to pre-load a kill switch on its phones. "We have repeatedly requested that the carriers take steps to protect their customers. We are now evaluating what course of action will be necessary to force them to prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets," he said.
Carriers are justifying their opposition to a kill switch by claiming they're concerned that hackers could abuse the function to disable devices used by consumers or law enforcement.

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