Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–May 12, 2014

California Senate OKs Requiring ‘Kill Switches’ on Cellphones
The state Senate on Thursday approved a measure requiring cellphones sold in California to be equipped with “kill switches” that make them inoperable if stolen. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other law enforcement officials backed the legislation as a way to reduce robberies, many of them violent, in which thieves take smartphones to resell them. Story by Patrick McGreevy for the Los Angeles Times.

Can Cell Phones Stop Crime in the World’s Murder Capitals?
In recent years, police have courted cell phone-toting citizens as crime “censors” everywhere from Washington, D.C. to the tiny Kenyan village of Lanet Umoja. But the practice has gained particular traction in Latin America, which has the highest rate of criminal violence on the planet (the region accounts for 8 percent of the world’s population and a third of its murders). Amateur crime-mapping has emerged as a parallel law-enforcement mechanism–in part owing to the popularity of cell phones in the region. Alertos, for its part, asks crime-spotters to identify the timing, location, and nature of the illegal activities they submit. The reports are posted anonymously, and users can even make note of “positive developments”–the term of art for successful arrests and raids by security forces. Administrators helpfully assign a level of credibility to each report, and some reports include a link to a news story on the crime. Story by Uri Friedman for The Atlantic.

Robocaller Fined $2.94M For Ignoring Warning To Not Call Cellphones Without Permission
While it’s legal to make political robocalls to landline phone numbers during an election campaign, it’s never legal to make a non-emergency robocall to a consumer’s wireless phone without his or her permission. According to the FCC notice, Dialing Services, which offers robocalling service to third-party clients, was warned in 2013 that the company’s practices were in violation of the Communications Act for making more than 4.7 million non-emergency robocalls to cell phones without consent in just three months. Dialing Services was warned that if it continued to make unlawful robocalls in the future, it could be held liable for penalties up to $16,000 per call. Upon a second review, the FCC found that Dialing Services continued to engage in the same practice, making approximately 184 additional robocalls to consumer cellphone numbers. So the FCC has levied the maximum fine of $16,000 for each of those 184 calls, resulting in the $2.94 million penalty. Story by Ashlee Kieler for Consumerist.

In Cellphone Contraband Cases, Few Face Charges
A Texas Tribune investigation has found that few inmates or correctional officers face legal consequences for smuggling cellphones even as prison officials have intensified efforts to keep the devices out of prisons. Just 5 percent of cellphone smuggling cases investigated by the Criminal Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General from 2009 to 2013 resulted in a criminal sentence. Prison officials said one challenge was linking the smuggled phones to prisoners or correctional officers, because the devices were hard to find, or found in common areas. And it falls to prosecutors in the rural, cash-strapped regions where prisons are typically located to decide whether to spend resources on criminals who are already in prison or on local law-enforcement officers. Critics say that without serious consequences, there is little to stanch the flow of illicit cellphones–and the cash that goes with them–into Texas prisons. Story by Edgar Walters and Dan Hill for the Texas Tribune.

Kansas City Schools to Use Cellphones to Boost Safety
Schools fight a losing battle trying to separate kids from their cellphones. The devices are so ubiquitous that where you see kids now of almost any age, there will likely be a cellphone attached either on a call, texting or waiting for one or the other to arrive. Kansas City Public Schools officials finally have gotten smart by enlisting cellphone use instead of fighting it. The district has developed a mobile app to try to improve safety. School officials are asking students, families and staff to use the “MessageQube” to send text messages to alert the district’s safety and security dispatcher about problems. Story by Lewis W. Diuguid for the Kansas City Star.

Fast Cash for Your Old Cell Phone
Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing problems in the world. According to the Solving the e-Waste Problem Initiative, 123,000 metric tons of electronic devices become e-waste every year, with Europe, the United States and China being the top polluters. Most of the discarded devices end up in China or India to be dismantled for the copper, silver, gold and other valuables that can be recovered. There, children are at risk to exposure of arsenic, mercury, aluminum and other hazardous chemicals. The problem is massive and growing, but the solution is already here with a wad of cash in it. Companies like ecoATM, Liquidity Services, Electronic Recyclers International Inc. and Appliance Recycling Centers of America all make it easy for Americans to properly dispose of your old cell phone, tablet, computer or refrigerator, and will dismantle the products in a responsible way. ecoATM will take your device, resell it and reward you with money instantly from the convenience of a kiosk at your local mall. Story by Natalie Pace for the Huffington Post.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.