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U.S. Law enforcement: iPhone theft isn't the only crime iOS 7 could help reduce

Joel Mathis | Sept. 30, 2013
The new Activation Lock feature in iOS 7 makes the phone very difficult to use or to wipe and resell if it gets stolen. Police and prosecutors hope that this technological development will lead to a reduction in smartphone thefts.

apple ios7

Forget iTunes Radio, thin fonts, and multitasking. The most important new thing about iOS 7 might be that your friendly neighborhood police officer loves it.

That's right: In New York and elsewhere around the country, law enforcement officials are actively encouraging iPhone and iPad users to upgrade to Apple's new mobile operating system. Why? Because the new Activation Lock feature in iOS 7 makes the phone very difficult to use or to wipe and resell if it gets stolen. Police and prosecutors hope that this technological development will lead to a reduction in smartphone thefts.

"Finding technical solutions that will remove the economic value of stolen smartphones is critical to ending the national epidemic of violent street crimes commonly known as 'Apple Picking,'" New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a written statement provided to Macworld. "More than 100 smartphones are lost or stolen each minute in the United States, and too many of those thefts turn violent or deadly."

That's why Schneiderman joined forces over the last year with San Francisco District Attorney General George Gascón to form Secure Our Smartphones, a group dedicated to pushing smartphone manufacturers to adopt new security features. Touch ID, the new fingerprint-activated security feature on the iPhone 5s, represents one way that security technology may help prevent theft. But iOS 7 may be the first sign that the efforts of Secure Our Smartphones are bearing fruit, as it will also protect hundreds of millions of older iOS devices.

"Apple has been listening," said Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokesperson for the San Francisco prosecutor. "They listened to us, and to consumers."

As detailed in Macworld's iOS 7 overview, once Activation Lock is enabled, someone who finds or steals your device can't disable Find My iPhone (or iPad or iPod touch) on the device without knowing both your Apple ID and that Apple ID's account password. And without those credentials, the person who has your lost device can't erase data from it, either. Furthermore, if you designate your device as lost, whoever is in possession of it can't restore or reactivate it--the phone displays only a phone number and a custom message about contacting you.

Earlier versions of iOS included a passcode lock, and the Find My iPhone feature. But despite those attempts at securing iPhones, according to both New York and San Francisco officials,  smartphone theft was the motive behind more than 50 percent of all robberies in their cities. Even more worrisome was the growingnumber of deadly encounters emerging from such robberies.

During last weekend's iPhone 5c and 5s launch, New York Police officers set up information tables at Apple Stores and Best Buy locations throughout the city, urging people to register their phones with the city's Operation ID program, which is designed to return phones to their original owners--and to upgrade to iOS 7 to help prevent theft over the long term.

 

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