CITY HALL — An unlikely pair of aldermen has united to ban the sale of smartphones without kill switches in order to to deter thefts in the city.
Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Bob Fioretti (2nd) have co-sponsored an ordinance to require that smartphones sold in Chicago have a kill switch, which would enable users to deactivate the phones if lost or stolen. The proposal for a new city law builds on a City Council resolution that passed earlier this month, sponsored by Fioretti and calling for the Federal Communications Commission to act on the issue nationwide.
Fioretti said Thursday it's just a natural extension of the resolution to put a law on the books citywide.
"The intention of this ordinance is to greatly reduce or eliminate smartphone robberies in Chicago, and the violence that often accompanies these crimes, by putting in place a mandatory system that will cause these devices to be completely useless to the thieves who steal them," Burke said in a statement.
The ordinance specifically cites the 2011 death of a 68-year-old woman pushed down the stairs at the Fullerton Avenue CTA stop in a smartphone theft. The thief eventually received a 32-year prison sentence.
According to the ordinance: "By eliminating the ability for stolen devices to be reactivated, the incentive to steal them would be eliminated."
Burke has the longest tenure among sitting aldermen and is one of two remaining members of the so-called Vrdolyak 29 who opposed Mayor Harold Washington in "Council Wars" in the '80s. Fioretti, by contrast, is a leading member of the Progressive Reform Caucus.
Fioretti said the two were united on the issue by "good public policy."
Smartphone theft is commonly called "Apple picking," in that Apple iPhones are frequently targeted. Yet Apple actually added a kill switch as part of its latest operating system. Other smartphone manufacturers and carriers, however, have resisted the move, with critics charging the firms enjoy a lucrative business in selling replacements and insurance.
Technophiles have also suggested the kill switch could be hacked and turned against the user, with the hacker extorting money over the threat to deactivate the phone. They suggest carriers share information on stolen phones and not activate them.
T-Mobile issued a statement saying it's "committed to working to end the risks posed to our customers by device theft. We continue to explore tools and technologies including a 'kill switch' type of solution. We believe that any such technology must provide sufficient consumer protection, security, and control." T-Mobile added that it participates in a global database "where stolen devices are listed ... in an effort to prevent their use on another carrier’s ... network."
U.S. Cellular no longer sells phones in the Chicago market, but spokesman Mike Herbst added, "As new technologies become available, we will give them prompt consideration in determining their utility in preventing smartphone theft, as safety of our customers is of paramount importance to us."
Still, the proposed ordinance would figure to enjoy support at both ends of the political spectrum in the council, but Fioretti warned it may not be ready for consideration ahead of the next meeting early next month.