Major wireless carriers 'blacklist' stolen cell phones
Federal Communications Commission program aims to deter smartphone theft
May 23, 2012, 10:02 pm · Updated May 24, 2012, 8:05 pm·
Philadelphia had the third-highest stolen cell phone rate nationwide in 2011, with $48 million worth of unrecovered phones, according to mobile security firm Lookout.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush commented that cell phone theft is a “huge problem across the country, including in the Penn community where stolen cell phones represented 19 percent of all thefts in the 2011 calendar year.” This rate marks a 2-percent increase in cell phone theft from the 2010 calendar year.
“In most instances, especially in Philadelphia, cell phones are being taken at gunpoint,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. “They’re being taken after serious assaults, so this is no small crime.”
With the increasing rate of cell phone robberies nationwide, wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have begun to cooperate in an effort to thwart mobile device theft.
Through the institution of databases that “blacklist” electronic devices from services after they are reported stolen, cell phone companies will potentially be able to avert cellphone theft across the country.
Due to pressure from police chiefs in major cities such as Philadelphia and New York, the Federal Communications Commission will introduce a program in 2013 that will enable a person to report a stolen phone to his or her carrier.
Under the program, the carrier assigns a unique identification number for the phone and loads it into a database that can be accessed by other cell phone carriers. Through the database, they will be able to check whether a mobile device is “blacklisted” and deny it wireless service if it has been reported stolen, CTIA-The Wireless Association Vice President Chris Guttman-McCabe said.
Four major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, which provide service to more than 90 percent of all United States wireless customers — have all agreed to collaborate with the FCC to establish and participate in the database.
“We wanted to find a way to reduce the value of stolen smart phones. It’s just too easy for a thief to steal a phone and sell it on the black market,” FCC Chair Julius Genachowski said. “This program will make it a lot harder to do that. And the police departments we are working with tell us that it will significantly deter this kind of theft.”
Within the next six to 12 months, the carriers hope to integrate their databases into one single central database for the country, which has already been implemented in the United Kingdom. Some smaller carriers also plan to embark on the movement.
The first database will be set up by Oct. 31 for second and third-generation phones using the GSM technology, Guttman-McCabe said. A database covering fourth-generation LTE technology will also be in place by Nov. 30, 2013.