San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said he pressed an Apple representative last week to embed such technology in every iPhone to diminish the product's value on the thriving black market for stolen mobile devices.
Gascon described the meeting as “very underwhelming," and said he now wants to meet with Apple chief executive Tim Cook to discuss development of an iPhone "kill switch."
“Given how nimble our technology companies are and how they can develop so many new features, I strongly believe that is a very doable thing,” Gascon said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
An Apple spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Across the country, police have reported a surge in thefts of smartphones and tablet computers -- iPhones and iPads in particular -- as criminals snatch mobile devices and resell them on the Internet, on street corners and inside local convenience stores. Of the 3,190 robberies in San Francisco last year, nearly half, or 1,470, were smartphone-related, according to police figures provided to HuffPost.
The spike in thefts has forced police departments to create special undercover unitsaimed at catching phone thieves. The human toll of phone robberies is also rising, as some victims lose not just their phones, but also their lives.
Last April, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile agreed to begin sharing a list of serial numbers linked to stolen phones. Once the policy goes into effect by the end of this year, a phone reported stolen will no longer work on any major U.S. wireless network.
Gascon, however, said the stolen phone database “looks good but is nothing more than smoke and mirrors."
A similar stolen phone blacklist launched in the United Kingdom a decade ago has not stopped phone thefts. Instead, it drove the black market overseas, because foreign wireless carriers don’t participate in the database.
Even if an iPhone is blacklisted, it can still connect to Wi-Fi hotspots to download games and music, browse the Web, make Skype calls and send text messages using WhatsApp, a popular Internet-based texting application.
“I’m very disturbed by the fact that the mobile communication industry, both at the carrier level and the manufacturer level, is so slow to respond to a problem that has been emerging for easily the last four or five years,” Gascon said.
“There are not a lot of times when we can create technological solutions to a problem,” he added. “This is one we can.”