Suit Filed in Ohio Questions Security of Push-Button Locks

March 15, 2011

Orthodox Jews are challenging the security of a type of push-button lock used in their homes and some government buildings in complaints before a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio.

The complaints have been consolidated into a potential class-action lawsuit against the Swiss lock maker Kaba and its U.S. operations, alleging the locks can be easily breached using a small magnet, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported.

An attorney representing Kaba declined to comment to the newspaper.

The locks are used at the Cleveland federal courthouse, and John Climaco, a lawyer suing Kaba, said the large Cleveland Hopkins airport also uses the locks.

Orthodox Jews use the locks because restrictions for the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to Saturday night, would prevent them from leaving home with keys in their pockets.

Yeshai Michael Kutoff, 29, a Talmudic scholar in Cleveland Heights who is one of the plaintiffs in the case, called the push-button locks “a really popular solution for Orthodox Jews.” He recently installed a pair of the locks at his home and said he finds it unsettling that a company might sell a lock “that’s not really worth much.”

The locks can cost hundreds of dollars, but rare earth magnets that can open the locks are available online for as little as $30, Climaco said.

Kutoff’s attorney and friend, Mark Schlachet, said the alleged vulnerability was found in New York City by a volunteer for a group that helps out in the Jewish community through good deeds, such as helping residents who lock themselves out of a home.

A transcript of a Louisiana court hearing shows an attorney for Kaba, Mark Miller, has questioned the severity of the alleged vulnerability, The Plain Dealer reported.

According to the transcript, Miller said his research showed the magnet would have to be bagel-sized, indicating it would be heavy and might not be easily hidden.

The people who filed the lawsuit disagreed, offering a video that showed a much smaller magnet opening the locks, the paper said.

In a court filing, Kaba said an upgrade has been developed to resolve the problem, but Climaco said there are still concerns about protecting previously sold locks.

The people who have filed the complaints at least want new or upgraded locks, Schlachet said. The lawsuit doesn’t detail how much compensation they are seeking.

Information from: The Plain Dealer

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