Wireless providers to disable stolen phones

Apr 10, 2012 By ERIC TUCKER , Associated Press
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski speaks during a news conference to announce an effort to crack down on smartphone theft at the Wilson Building in Washington, DC. Genachowski said the four leading carriers had agreed to set up their own databases of stolen phones within six months.

(AP) -- Major wireless service companies have agreed to disable cellphones after they are reported stolen under a strategy intended to deter the theft and resale of wireless devices.

The system announced Tuesday relies on a centralized database that officials hope to be operating within six months. The database will record smartphones' unique identifying numbers. That way, wireless carriers that receive a report of a stolen smartphone will be able to recognize the device and block it from being used again.

"We're sending a message to consumers that we've got your back and a message to criminals that we're cracking down on the stolen phone" market, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said in announcing the new strategy with several big-city police chiefs and a wireless industry representative.

Major U.S. cities have been reporting increases in smartphone thefts as criminals steal devices to resell - sometimes overseas - as part of sophisticated operations. Officials say that cellphones are now taken in 38 percent of all robberies in Washington, and more than 40 percent of robberies in New York City involve phones. Many of the robberies are violent, resulting in either serious injury or sometimes death, police say.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said her department had devoted considerable resources in recent months to the problem, but "that's just not enough, not in a crime as complex as this one is."

Cellphone carriers covering roughly 90 percent of U.S. subscribers are participating, the FCC said.

The goal is to render stolen cellphones useless, drying up the market for them and removing the incentive to steal them.

"What we're announcing here today will make a stolen cellphone about as worthless as an empty wallet," said Sen. Charles Schumer, who called smartphones "catnip for criminals" because they're valuable, exposed and easy to steal.

Schumer, D-N.Y., is sponsoring legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with smartphones' unique identifying numbers.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said cellphone thefts have been a persistent problem in the city even as other crime has dropped in the last decade. He likened the new approach to "draining the swamp to fight malaria."

The FCC said smartphone manufacturers will also implement automatic prompts that encourage users to lock their devices with a password. The industry has also agreed to create a campaign educating consumers about how to protect their cellphones and to release quarterly updates on their progress.

Officials wouldn't say how much the initiative would cost.

Christopher Guttman-McCabe of CTIA-The Wireless Association, an organization representing the wireless communications industry, said, "It certainly won't be without costs, but we don't think about cost in this context."

"This is about safety and security," he added.

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Telekinetic
5 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2012
Even better, phones that explode immediately after being stolen.
Au-Pu
2 / 5 (3) Apr 10, 2012
What does the CTIA mean when it says this is about "safety and security"? Sounds like a load of bull shit to me. The phone companies have been able to do this almost ever since they introduced them to the market.
Like many manufacturers of other products they have been content to ignore this all in the interest of extra sales. When a phone is stolen the owner has to buy a new one and in most cases the person who steals the phone or the person they sell it to will then become a user of the phone thus generating additional income for the phone company.
The question I would like to see answered is what has occurred to cause the phone companies to alter their opinion about this issue?
Telekinetic
4 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2012
It could also be that our government doesn't want to reveal how easy it is to track us and listen into our conversations, so they're making it appear like a new technology needs to be invented when all along they've been able to smell what we're cooking for dinner. All of this cell phone capability was mandated by George W. Bush.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2012
It is good to give corporations ultimate control over your personal possessions. It is a sign that Corporate governance is taking the final steps in enslaving the public.

Osiris1
2.5 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2012
Another move on the checkerboard. How long before hackers of fones figure out how to change this number at will. Terrorists will not be affected by this as they will be among the first to acquire this tech, as well as ways to 'surgically remove' the GPS tattletales inside all digital fones...or better yet..to spoof their locations. Digital fones were federally mandated in order to facilitate storage of conversations economically, as storage of analog based conversations eats up several orders of magnitude more storage media space as digital storage, especially if voice recognition software reduces voices to text and stores that along with a small sound sample for secret police evidence validation. Signs on every military base scream to members: Don't tell-a-phone classified info! Figure fones like the old "Cheers" program...a place where EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME!
88HUX88
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
Digital fones were federally mandated in order to facilitate storage of conversations economically, as storage of analog based conversations eats up several orders of magnitude more storage media space as digital storage, especially if voice recognition software reduces voices to text and stores that along with a small sound sample for secret police evidence validation.

More Clozapine needed
blazingspark
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
I hope this works... but reliance on legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with smartphones' unique identifying numbers makes me think this system well be easy for criminals with the right equipment to easily circumvent by programming the phone with a new ui number.

Why is it so hard to lock a chip down so it can't be reprogrammed?
patnclaire
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
What about the situation when my phone contract expires and I purchase a new and improved over-priced device. What happens to the old worn-out device under this law? Can I re-sell it? No. Can I give it to charity? No. Can I do anything with it other than use it as a paper weight?