Rep. Engel Supports Voluntary Smartphone Anti-Theft Commitment

Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, supports a voluntary agreement by wireless companies to boost their anti-theft initiatives, but urged Congress to enact a more comprehensive measure.

Under this agreement, consumers would be able to lock lost or stolen smartphones with a passcode and remotely erase personal information. Smartphones cannot be reactivated without the owner’s permission, and users can restore their settings on recovered phones. New smartphones made after July 2015 will make these anti-theft applications available for download, or preloaded on the phone, at no cost to consumers.

“I am pleased that cellphone manufacturers and providers have finally agreed to take more steps towards protecting customer safety and privacy, while deterring theft. I have been advocating for stronger anti-theft protections for years. I first introduced the Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act in 2012, but I have also pushed the major cell phone service providers to adopt these types of measures to protect consumers without the need for legislation.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 40 percent of all 2012 robberies in New York City involved smartphones or other cell phones. FCC data shows cell phone theft is responsible for approximately 30 to 40 percent of all robberies in other major cities.

Preventing these offenses would significantly reduce the incidents of potentially violent crimes.  Hwang Yang, a 26-year-old Riverdale resident, was killed two years ago on Johnson Avenue in the Bronx for his iPhone.

“While I am pleased by the voluntary actions taken by wireless companies, thieves are always looking for new ways to side-step customer protections. My bill takes additional steps to criminalize altering or otherwise tampering with cell phone serial numbers in order to mitigate the incentive to steal smartphones. Criminals should not be rewarded for theft.”