Kill switch solution to apple picking

By Metro Editor

Although apples Are out of season, “apple picking,” or the theft of smartphones, is on the rise in Chicago and around the country.

Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) and Edward Burke (14th Ward) introduced an ordinance on Feb. 5 that would require all Chicago cell phones to be equipped with a “kill switch,” a feature that allows owners to disable their phone if they are stolen. After a smartphone is stolen, the victim would have to report it to their service provider, who is responsible for activating the kill switch. It blocks the device from being used again, potentially eliminating the appeal of stealing smartphones, according to the ordinance.

Fioretti said he introduced the ordinance because of frequent thefts on the Chicago Transit Authority. The technology is also inexpensive for service carriers to implement.

“[The cost for cell phone carriers] is very minimal,” Fioretti said. “They should all start to look at that.”

Smartphone theft is on the rise nationwide, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and accounts for 30–40 percent of all robberies in major cities. Smartphone theft has increased by 30 percent on CTA trains and buses in recent years, according to the ordinance.

The kill switch is also gaining attention at the state and federal levels. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently joined the Secure Our Smartphone initiative, a national effort that calls on cell phone carriers to implement the kill switch because it is the most effective way to decrease smartphone thefts, according to the June 13 statement on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s website.

The initiative states that the CTIA database, an anti-theft device similar to the kill switch that was created in November, does not effectively combat threats because it does not prevent the stolen device from being reactivated.

The statement also calls on cell phone carriers to dismiss their concerns about the potential profit losses caused by the kill switch because the impact of the kill switch is mitigating crime and reassuring customers.

The kill switch could become national law. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is drafting legislation to present to Congress that would require all wireless carriers to use the kill switch device, according to a Dec. 31 release from Klobuchar’s office.

Although the kill switch is gaining momentum, some people see phone theft as a matter of personal responsibility. Michael Cole, Wicker Park Committee director, said it is not surprising some people are robbed because they pay more attention to their phone than their surroundings. He said most locals know where it is safe to use their phones in public and where it is risky, so the majority of smartphone thefts in his neighborhood are likely of tourists who are unfamiliar with the area.

“This is not a crime that is happening to residents,” Cole said. “This is a crime happening to visitors … I have nothing against visitors. I’m glad we have visitors, there is a lot to see and do in Wicker Park, but if they’re stupid, that is not my concern.”

Cole said he thinks people should be more aware of safety precautions when using their phones in public.

Robberies have been on the rise in Lakeview, the majority of them smartphone thefts, as reported Oct. 28 by The Chronicle.

Jay Lyon, executive director of The Northalsted Business Alliance, which represents businesses along North Halsted Street from Barry Street to Irving Park Road, said smartphone thefts remain prevalent because Lakeview has an active nightlife that draws people from different areas who may not be familiar with the North Side and where it is safe to use their phones in public.

“I think people get distracted by technology a lot,” Lyon said. “That is not helpful when you’re not aware of your surroundings.”

Lyon said the alliance has a strong relationship with the police and is a regular presence at Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings to communicate safety information.

Lupita Carrasquillo, a Chicago resident, said she uses her smartphone when she is in public and on the bus, but she has her own safety strategies to avoid theft, such as turning her phone on vibrate and storing it in her pants pocket.

“I usually keep it in a pocket that is close to me that I can feel instead of the back pocket of my backpack or something that could easily be taken out and I wouldn’t know,” Carrasquillo said.

Carrasquillo said she knows many victims of phone theft in Chicago and she thinks the kill switch would be an effective solution.

“I’d love to make it more difficult for someone to reap the benefits of stealing a phone,” Carrasquillo said. “I grew up here and it’s a nice place, but people have to make money and sometimes people don’t make money in the most honest ways.”