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State Representative Wants to Require 'Kill Switches' on Cell Phones

Rep. Joe Atkins said turning a stolen phone into ‘a paperweight’ would give thieves less reason to steal phones and prevent increasingly violent robberies.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-District 52B)
Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-District 52B)

A local legislator wants to deter thieves who steal cell phones by making the phones they steal worthless.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-District 52B)—whose district includes all or parts of Eagan, Inver Grove Heights and Mendota Heights—wants to require a “kill switch” on smart phones. The switch would allow people whose phones were stolen to go back to their home computer and disable the phone.

“You turn it into basically a paperweight—which means it no longer has any value, and that’s what’s prompting criminals to steal these devices,” he told Capitol Report host Julie Bartkey.

Atkins cites Federal Communications Commission statistics saying that nearly one in three robberies across the country involve smart phones.

“Not only was it a monetary (thing)—it’s like $30 billion now across the country—but they’ve become so violent,” he said. “It used to be that they’d snatch your phone and take off. Now they’re hitting people over the head. They’re beating them up. And then they’re stealing their cell phone.”

Twin Cities residents got a visible example of this violence when thieves attacked former Hennepin County commissioner and Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew.

Andrew was at a Mall of America Starbucks when someone stole his phone. When he chased down the thief, two female teenagers attacked him, one with a metal baton. He was able to hold onto them until police arrived, but he emerged from the robbery bloody.

There has been a string of robberies of electronic devices—such as smart phones, tablets and computers—elsewhere, including some incidents near the University of Minnesota. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has warned residents to be careful when using the devices in public spaces.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has also called on manufacturers to build kill switches into their phones.

“Mobile devices aren’t just telephones anymore – increasingly people’s livelihoods depend on them,” a Dec. 30 statement quoted Klobuchar. “That’s why we need to do more to crack down on criminals who are stealing and reselling these devices, costing consumers billions every year. The wireless industry needs to step up to the plate and address these thefts, and make sure consumers have the most advanced security technology at their fingertips.”


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