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Annapolis Tackles ecoATMs

P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

Three lawmakers from Baltimore City are pushing bills in the General Assembly this year to regulate Automated Purchasing Machines, or APMs. 

APMs are kiosks that purchase used cell phones and other portable electronic devices.  A seller places a device into a bin; the machine checks it out and makes an offer. If the seller accepts, the machine asks for an ID and dispenses cash.  The entire transaction is observed in real time by a human.

But law enforcement officials have complained there is no guarantee the human was paying close attention to the ID or the person presenting it and that the machines are magnets for thieves seeking to cash in on stolen cell phones and iPads.

Two bills come up for a hearing Wednesday afternoon before the House of Delegate’s Economic Matters Committee.

Del. Mary Washington’s (D) proposal lays out record keeping requirements for the machines and requires payment to be made by check.  Police have said the cash payments draw cell phone thieves looking for easy money.

Washington says she is drawn to the idea of recycling portable electronic devices because it would help reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the trash stream. Her bill requires the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to craft details of the rules.

“I feel very confident that working together with police and law enforcement that together those agencies can promulgate regulations,” says Washington.

The other bill before the house panel, from Del. Luke Clippinger (D), lays out record keeping requirements similar to Washington’s bill.  But his proposal allows machines to dispense cash provided they collect information such as device model, serial number and the owner’s identification.  It also requires the transaction to be observed by a human in Maryland.  Transactions for ecoATM, the only company in the APM business, are observed by a human at their headquarters in San Diego.

Clippinger compares the current situation with APMs to the wild west.

“We need to make sure that we have a strong base and by the way a strong base that not only ensures that they are well regulated,” says Clippinger who adds that laws should allow local jurisdictions to decide if they want to ban the machines.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D) has proposed a bill similar to Clippinger’s.  The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear her bill on Feb. 20.

Officials from ecoATM have looked at the proposed state legislation and have been in contact with legislators.

“The state legislators that we've worked with have been really open minded and terrific in terms of going above the process of trying to find a solution that works well in the state of Maryland that is also business and technology friendly,” says Ryan Kuder, vice president of marketing and communications for ecoATM.  Kuder says regulation is a good decision for all parties involved and not just his company.  He also encourages a global look at combating cell phone theft.

All three bills would allow a ban enacted in Baltimore City last year to stand while allowing Baltimore County to control its own destiny. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz introduced a proposal to ban APMs there this past Thursday.