The Federal Communications Commission and the major wireless carriers in the U.S. have agreed to create a central database of stolen cell phones in an effort to reduce their resale value and therefore cutting down on the appeal of the crime. The proposal has the wireless providers creating and maintaining the database which will be built-up over the next two years.
Cell phone theft is a growing problem and one that caught the attention of the Major Cities Chiefs Association which then pressured the FCC and the carriers to do something to assist in dealing with the issue. They published a resolution in February seeking to have technology put in place to disable stolen devices. (iPhones have this technology already in the Find My Phone service.)
The Wall Street Journal reports that the major carriers — including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile — have agreed to create a central database that would house data from all carriers and cover all types of phones. Phones reported stolen will be added to the database and identified by serial number. The networks will then be able to block these phones from accessing their services, either voice or data. In addition, customers will be encouraged to password-protect their devices.
The schedule for development of this database begins with the large carriers each creating their own databases within six months. Then these databases will be combined into the one, central database in the 12 months following that. Last, the regional carriers will be added to the database to complete the nationwide coverage.
Because of the technology they are based on, CDMA phones, such as those offered by Verizon and Sprint, have the serial number associated with the handset. This makes tracking and disabling the device simpler than the GSM handsets which are offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. GSM handsets have their serial number attached to the SIM card which is removable and easily replaced.
Thieves could potentially steal a GSM handset, replace the SIM card with a legitimately purchased one, and sell the device without anyone knowing that it is stolen property. AT&T and T-Mobile officials say they are looking at adding technologies that would address this issue. An FCC official believes that this will likely be solved by adding an identifier to the devices themselves, not just the SIM card.
Similar databases are already in place in other countries such as the UK, Australia, France, and Germany. Cell phone theft has not been stopped in those countries, but has declined even as the number of cell phones has increased.