Cell networks to form phone database to fight theft

Summary:Cell networks are to announce a centralised database of unique mobile device IDs as part of a national register of stolen phones, as part of efforts to reduce crime.

In what sounds like something written in George Orwell's 1984, a new U.S. initiative will record unique cell phone IDs in a centralised database in a bid to prevent cellphone and smartphone thefts.

Cell networks representing 90 percent of U.S. subscribers --- including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA --- will announce later today the new database, which will allow phone owners to report a device theft to their network so it can be 'bricked' from being used again.

The database, helped along by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will be up and running in six months, and carriers aim to expand it through their global operations within 18 months.

A similar system has existed in the UK and Australia for years, with a good success rate and strong consumer confidence. The National Mobile Phone Register has been running for nearly two years, and located and identified more than 50,000 phones in the first nine months of operation.

And while a 'centralised database' may deter many for issues of privacy, no personal identifiable information is stored.

But ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes notes that in some cases, unique IMEI numbers can be changed and the devices can be shipped abroad where they still work on foreign networks.

But U.S. legislation, proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will make it a federal crime to change or tamper unique IMEI numbers to spoof the networks into allowing the stolen devices' back on cell networks, reports Reuters.

Cell phone crime has rocketed in the past decade, and strong demand for the latest and greatest devices, from Android devices to Apple's iPhones, the cleverer smartphones get, equally the cleverer thieves become. But phone robberies still make up a high proportion of all thefts in areas of Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, and others, FCC officials said, and the numbers continue to rise year on year.

While it won't resolve the problem of cell and smartphone thefts, it will certainly hamper the black market economy from the point where the device is stolen, such as being sold on or stripped down for valuable metals.

Related:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Networking, Storage, Telcos

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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