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US wireless carriers to create nation-wide database in a bid to prevent phone theft

April 10, 2012
stolen phone

Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint have just announced an agreement with the U.S. government to build a central database of all cell phones. The nation’s four biggest wireless carriers will use the database as part of a broad effort to growing problem of phone and data theft.

Last year, 54% more robberies than in 2007 ended up with cell phone theft in Washington, D.C., while 38% of all robberies in the US capital target such devices, said FCC officials. However, things are as bad as, if not worse, in other large American cities, like Los Angeles or Philadelphia.

Another surprising report states that electronics are nowadays the most stolen type of property nationwide, surpassing even cash. In New York, for instance, there were more than 26,000 incidents of electronics theft over the first ten months of 2011 and no less than 81% of these involved mobile phones. Although some consider that the problem should be solved by the police and local authorities from across the nation, mobile carriers can play an important role in the containment of the cell phone theft epidemic. At least, in theory, that is.

That’s why the four major US wireless carriers, representing about 90% of all American mobile subscribers, have decided to create a database of unique stolen cell phone IDs. The shared database should be up and running in six months tops and could also be expanded globally over the next year and a half.

According to FCC officials, the database will allow users to easily notify wireless providers of a theft, which will then lead to the immediate and definitive blocking of the device. Currently, only Verizon and Sprint have the technology to block stolen phones, as they are the only two carriers using CDMA networks and Electronic Serial Numbers to manage their devices. AT&T and T-Mobile, on the other hand, are unable to block lost or stolen handhelds, as the phones use SIM cards that can be simply removed from the device and thrown away.

Aside from the device database, the FCC is also planning to start a campaign to educate consumers on data protection, so expect  text messages instructing you to protect your device with passwords or to download apps for locating your device once lost or stolen.

As far as I’m concerned, this national database is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while. We need policies and plans to make stolen gadgets useless for thieves and we need them yesterday!