Should U.S. wireless carriers brick stolen cellphones? [poll]

The 'bricking' technique is already used in the UK and Australia, but will it have an impact on crime prevention?

Thousands of cellphones are stolen every year, many under violent circumstances. One potentially quick and easy solution that could help to reduce the knock-on effects from phone thefts would be for the carriers to 'brick' the stolen handsets so they become useless.

But it turns out that the wireless carriers are dragging their heels when it comes to implementing this solution.

Before we go on, a word on 'bricking.' This isn't bricking in the sense of the carrier sending a secret code down to the handset that kills it stone dead. The bricking is done at the carrier end, with a device's ESN or IMEI being blacklisted and used to prevent the handset from being reconnected to the network.

This technique is already being used in the UK and Australia. However, the handset can be shipped off to a foreign country where it can still be used, or the IMEI number on some handsets can be changed. While far from perfect, it seems to have helped reduce cellphone thefts.

It's unclear why the carriers are dragging their heels. The only carrier to offer MSNBC a statement on the matter was Sprint which says that it is 'willing to cooperate and work with law enforcement officials on situations regarding cell phone theft' and that the creation of a national database or listing of stolen cell phones is a discussion the company 'is open to participating in.'

Likely reasons why carriers have so far been reluctant to set up a national database are cost and the need to cooperate. I've also seen a secondary reason, which is that the carriers feel that the system could be misused and legitimate phones end up being blocked -- either accidentally of maliciously. While all valid reasons, none seem like deal-breakers to me, especially given the potential violent nature of street robberies.

[poll id="759"]

Editorial standards