The Department of iPhone Security

Claiming issues of "public safety" are involved, ICE agents help Apple bust South Florida smartphone repair shops

By Andrew Leonard

Published April 30, 2013 6:03PM (EDT)

           (iFixit/Reuters Graphics)
(iFixit/Reuters Graphics)

A South Florida TV news station is reporting that over the last few months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been raiding local smartphone repair shops and seizing counterfeit Apple parts. As many as 25 shops have been raided and "between $250,000 and $300,000 in counterfeit Apple parts" have been confiscated. In the case of at least one of the raids, the owner of a repair shop claimed that the ICE agents were accompanied by Apple representatives.

"It's a wide investigation that is multi-state. We are looking at whole industry spectrum of repair shops that are using substandard products," said Gerard O'Neill, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Miami Field Office for Homeland Security.

O'Neill says it's a public safety issue and that is how Homeland Security is involved.

He says consumers have be hurt by overheating phones that were repaired using counterfeit parts.

"There are trademark and licensing violations as well," he added.

According to Abel Abella, the proprietor of one of the raided repair shops, "20 ICE agents and two people from Apple came to his store."

The Local10 news story doesn't provide dates for any of the raids, but judging by Abel Abella's Twitter timeline, his operation was hit sometime in early December. In November, Abella was tweeting before-and-after pictures of a fixed iPad. On Dec. 13, he posted a message to his customers on Facebook announcing that he was no longer repairing Apple products.

A job well done by Apple! Successful employment of the mighty force of the U.S. government's Department of Homeland Security to wipe out competition and ensure that Apple customers pay through the nose at Apple-certified repair shops! But the news also raises some questions: Why are counterfeit Apple parts a job for Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Why are Apple employees accompanying law enforcement on raids? And who could possibly believe that "public safety" concerns related to overheating phone parts justify a massive federal government operation on behalf of one corporation?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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