Samsung officials told the San Francisco district attorney's office in July that carriers were resisting kill switches, and prosecutors have recently reviewed emails between a senior vice president at Samsung and a software developer about the issue. One email in August said Samsung had pre-installed kill switch software in some smartphones ready for shipment, but carriers ordered its removal as a standard feature.
"These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums," Gascon said. "I'm incensed. ... This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers."
Samsung said it is cooperating with Gascon, Schneiderman and the carriers on an anti-theft solution but declined to comment specifically about the emails.
"We are working with the leaders of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative to incorporate the perspective of law enforcement agencies," said Samsung spokeswoman Jessica Redman. "We will continue to work with them and our wireless carrier partners toward our common goal of stopping smartphone theft."
Although the popular Samsung Galaxy smartphones are shipped across the country without LoJack as a standard feature, users can pay a subscription fee for the service.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, said it has been working with the FCC, law enforcement agencies and elected officials on a national stolen phone database scheduled to launch Nov. 30.
The CTIA says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.
"The problem is how do you trigger a kill switch in a secure manner and not be compromised by a third party and be subjected to hacking," said James Moran, a security adviser with the GSMA, a United Kingdom wireless trade group that has overseen a global stolen mobile phone database and is helping to create the U.S. version.
Last year, about 121 million smartphones were sold in the U.S., according to International Data Corp., a Massachusetts-based researcher. About 725 million smartphones were sold worldwide, accounting for $281 billion in sales, IDC said.
Samsung Electronics Co., with its popular Galaxy S4 smartphone, shipped 81 million phones — more than the next four manufacturers combined — during the most recent sales quarter for a market share of 31 percent, IDC reported in October. Apple Inc. shipped 34 million iPhones for a market share of 13 percent.
In June, Gascon and Schneiderman held a "Smartphone Summit" in New York City to call on representatives from smartphone makers Apple, Samsung, Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to adopt kill switches that would be free to consumers.
That week, Apple said such a feature, an "activation lock," would be part of its iOS 7 software that was eventually released this fall. The new activation lock feature is designed to prevent thieves from turning off the Find My iPhone application, which allows owners to track their phone on a map, remotely lock the device and delete its data.