Carriers slammed by officials for rejecting cell phone 'kill switch'

The San Francisco District Attorney and New York Attorney General are asking the carriers to reconsider a proposal to add a kill switch to every smartphone.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (center) stands with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon (second from right) and other officials in announcing the SOS initiative. Roger Cheng/CNET

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman criticized carriers for rejecting their proposal to install a "kill switch" in smartphones to deter theft, a move they called "highly disturbing."

The officials said yesterday the carriers rebuffed the plan, which would have rendered lost or stolen phones inoperable -- a kind of LoJack for smartphones. It was part of the "Save Our Smartphone" coalition the officials launched in June, which started by opening a dialogue with the handset vendors.

But it wasn't the handset manufacturers, including companies such as Samsung and Apple, that balked. Ultimately, the carriers felt the creation of a national "blacklist" of stolen devices was enough of a deterrent. The CTIA, which is the trade group for the wireless carriers, felt the kill switch idea would carry too many risks.

The officials said that if the carriers were prioritizing profits over the safety of its consumers -- as the statement suggests -- it "was even more egregious."

"Since smartphone thefts so often result in violence, we call on manufacturers and carriers alike to make the opt-out kill switch an industrywide standard," the officials said in a joint statement released Tuesday.

They said they would continue to pressure the industry to consider the kill switch plan.