CITY HALL — A City Council committee backed a smartphone "kill switch" resolution Monday hoping to discourage thefts and make stolen phones "worthless on the secondary market."
The resolution, sponsored by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), calls on the Federal Communications Commission to use its power to urge smartphone manufacturers and carriers to adopt a "kill switch" as a "standard feature" to remotely disable stolen phones — making them basically "worthless on the secondary market."
Fioretti cited the support of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who has said there were 1.6 million smartphone thefts nationwide in 2012, with a 30 percent increase in Chicago in thefts on public transportation.
While most crime trends are down, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said, smartphone thefts in his ward are "skyrocketing."
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said it was common on the Green Line for thieves to "beat people down and rob them just for their iPhones."
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said there also have been "secondary crimes" linked to phone thefts. When victims tried to buy their phones back from those who said they stole them, they've been mugged, he said.
According to Fioretti, police call the thefts "Apple picking," due to the popularity of Apple's iPhone, but he lauded the company for already working to add such a kill switch to its latest operating system. He said other smartphone makers, however, were dragging their feet on the issue, thanks to the lucrative market in selling replacements and insurance to cover thefts.
Paul Sand, a Downtown resident with a background in technology security, agreed that it is an "important problem," but testified that kill switches are not the best solution.
"Everything and anything can be hacked," Sand said, adding that it is possible that hackers could gain access to a kill switch remotely and extort money from a smartphone owner over the threat of having the phone rendered useless.
Sand recommended "blacklisting," creating a registry of stolen phones that cannot be activated by another carrier, but he said thus far competing carriers have been reluctant to share such information.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said the city's Law Department should look into enacting the city's own ordinances on the matter, and Fioretti endorsed that approach, saying, "We are looking at that."
For now, though, the "kill switch" resolution heads for approval by the full Council on Wednesday after being approved by the finance committee.