Wireless Carriers Band Together To Form Theft-Prevention Database

It appears someone has produced a magic ring and activated it, calling U.S. wireless carriers together to create a database that will help protect consumers against cell phone theft. And while the carriers, representing 90% of phone service subscribers, aren’t really superheroes, there are high hopes that this new database will help thwart thieves.

Reuters reports that Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile USA are included in the group database plan, which should be up and running in the next six months in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission and those companies unveiled the plan today. There are plans to expand it globally as well.

The FCC says the database will allow consumer to notify their wireless provider in the event of theft and the provider will then block that device from use. Senator Chuck Schumer also threw in some legislation he backed, making it a federal crime to tamper with the unique IDs used in the centralized database, so that thieves can’t get around it and unlock devices.

In robberies last year in Washington, D.C, cell phones were taken 54% more than they were in 2007, and are the target in 38% of all robberies in the capital, says the FCC. Those kinds of figures are similar in big cities like New York, Philadelphia and others.

The FCC also plans on ways to educate consumers better so that they can combat cell phone and data theft, using guides, anti-theft apps and messages on smartphones.

U.S. wireless carriers to create database to fight phone theft [Reuters]

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  1. BettyCrocker says:

    What the heck is this “JustAnswer” advertising after I submitted a link. Isn’t this site supposed to be without ads?

  2. mikedt says:

    Now I have to figure out how this is helping the providers, because god knows they wouldn’t do this unless forced to or it somehow added to their bottom line.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    “Wireless Carriers Band Together To Form Theft-Prevention Database”

    Wireless Carriers Band Together To Form Monopoly In Order To Stifle Competition And Generate Outsized Profits.

    There, fixed that for you.

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      I gaze into my crystal ball, and see a swift and thorough stifling of the legitimate secondary market for cell phones.

      • Sneeje says:

        I’m not sure you’re wrong, given that the First Sale Doctrine has been under heavy assault for the last decade.

        That said, if this is a database of devices that are “reported stolen”, presumably that shouldn’t be a problem here.

        • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

          Unless companies “accidentally” add a phone to that list every time it’s taken off their network (someone upgrades to a different phone).

  4. cbutler says:

    Jesus effing popsicle sticks it’s about effing time!

    • NightSteel says:

      No kidding. This has been done in other countries for some years and those countries saw smartphone theft plummet as a result. But every time someone asked the cellcos why they didn’t do that here, they stuck their heads in the sand. Glad to hear someone prodded them into action.

    • spamtasticus says:

      Lol this is amazingly stupid. Re read this kiddies. They build a database of unique mac addresses for stolen phones and then pass a law making it illegal to change the mac address!!!!! hello… McFly…. Criminals who steal phones could not care less about laws preventing you from changing the phones identifier.

      DOH!

      This reminds me of the moron signs at banks stating no sunglasses or hats. Why don’t they just save time and post a No Bank Robbers sign.

  5. Beave says:

    Anyone who’s had an iPhone stolen will quickly find that Apple and AT&T refuse to disable the device. Simply put, you’re locked into a contract and will buy a new phone, and if the stolen phone ends up back on the market there’s a good chance that person will pay for a data plan. They’ve actually decided it’s in their best interests to refuse to help you.

    It’s an area the FCC or some other government branch needs to get involved. If you report a phone stolen and they have the ability to remotely brick the device, they should do so.

    • NightSteel says:

      It should be noted that this database won’t exactly brick the device, just stop it from ever being used on a phone or data plan. A thief would still be able to use the wifi on a stolen phone. Of course, that reduces its value greatly, but yeah, not quite bricking it.

    • fantomesq says:

      Refuse to disable the device? Correct. However Apple Security does regularly assist the police in locating stolen iPhones. I am not convinced that this new database protects against someone who sold their iPhone and then reports it stolen… what proof is required to be added to this database? Senators aren’t always the best source of well thought out technological solutions

      • Beave says:

        You need a police report for that. Good luck getting the police to write a report for you on a phone that wasn’t physically taken from you in most jurisdictions. If you just forgot it or lost it somewhere, they consider it a waste of time and tell you to deal with your cell phone company.

        • finbar says:

          You might try a nearby University: when I lost my phone I was able to get a police report from the campus police at the public window. Far less hassle than the oveburdened municipal police.

          “Of course I lost my phone on campus”

          *crosses fingers behind back*

    • larissa_j says:

      I guess it makes a difference where you lose the phone! I lost mine overseas and AT&T couldn’t brick it fast enough once I notified them. I guess they didn’t want those charges if I wasn’t going to be paying for them.

  6. dolemite says:

    I’m guessing this is actually a government backed program to track information/users in some way. A worldwide database of people linked to their phones (which have tracking capabilities). Yeah…no way that can be abused by governments.

  7. Derigiberble says:

    Now get Google and Apple in on it (disabling access to their respective app stores for stolen smartphone devices) and we’re really talking!

  8. maxx22 says:

    GREAT IDEA BUT:

    How do you get your phone OFF the list?
    What if you reported it stolen and suddently find it (under the car seat, etc).?
    You call Verizon and say you have your phone – how do they know it is you?
    Do you go into a Verizon store with your ID and phone and ask for help?
    Even if they believe you, how long will it take to free up your phone?

    As noted, a good idea but I suspect that once a phone is reported stolen, it becomes a permanent paperweight.

  9. Grogey says:

    IT will only sort of work, saw this happen at a Verizon store one day. Guy comes in and asks if they could check if it had been stolen. (It had) Guy says well there goes 100$

  10. libgeek says:

    “Senator Chuck Schumer also threw in some legislation he backed, making it a federal crime to tamper with the unique IDs used in the centralized database, so that thieves can’t get around it and unlock devices.”

    Yes, because cell phone thieves certainly aren’t willing to break the law. Thanks Chuck! Seriously, though, it’s about time.

  11. nbs2 says:

    Wireless companies and Chuck Schumer. I’m not sure I could trust this unholy union any less than I do now.

  12. JollyJumjuck says:

    We’ve all seen how wireless carriers colluded to drive up the prices of text messages artificially high. About time they used their powers for some good.

  13. TechDriver says:

    Warning !!!

    I think you all have missed the point here… The government wants all devices registered and making it a crime to change your device’s unique number. It is nothing but a backdoor way for the government to issue a national identification — now with tracking abilities.

    It is being sold as a benefit to the consumer – when it is actually a windfall for the Powers that be and the Carriers/advertisers…

  14. Lyn Torden says:

    “Senator Chuck Schumer also threw in some legislation he backed, making it a federal crime to tamper with the unique IDs used in the centralized database, so that thieves can’t get around it and unlock devices.”

    Yeah, that’s right, Chuck, a LAW will stop those criminals!

  15. rushevents says:

    Dangit! there goes the free market again to screw the little guy… Oh wait.

  16. JonBoy470 says:

    The fact that Sprint has offered this service since forever is one of the reasons I’ve stuck with them. Speaking from experience, it actually is quite simple. You call customer service. Tell them you’ve lost the phone tied to . The CSR can see the IMEI of the phone currently associated with that number. The CSR then deactivates the phone and blacklists its IMEI. Congrats, you now have a mobile number with no phone tied to it. Obtain a a new phone. Its IMEI is checked against the blacklist as part of the activation, and if all is in order, life is good. And yes, they’ll do all this without requiring a police report from you. Basic controls are in place. The CSR will first authenticate you as the account holder (security question) prior to any activation, deactivation or blacklisting. You can only brick a phone that is currently associated with your account. Similarly, you can only unbrick a phone if you are the person who previously had it bricked. Sprint will also not activate a given phone on your account if it is currently active on any other account. Sprint CSRs can confirm for you the current status of any phone, regardless of who owns it. When buying a Sprint phone on Craigslist, one calls Sprint to ascertain the phone status prior to money changing hands.

    As for Big Brother worries that such a database can be used for tracking purposes, that ship sailed long ago. You only have privacy because, quite frankly, you arent important enough for anyone other than advertisers to want to track. Your provider can geolocate your handset by dint of your handset communicating with their towers. Plus you probably use Facebook. Even if you steer clear of social networks, you do venture out in public, pay with plastic, own and drive a car, and in so doing make yourself easily traceable by someone with sufficient motivation. All you had to do was not be a hermit living in a cave. Except that even doing that will just cause you to stick out like a sore thumb and invite suspicion and scrutiny. But I digress…