In a move that will be akin to stealing an empty wallet, lawmakers and service providers have targeted disabling stolen cell phones.
Making stolen cell phones worthless should hamper thefts after major wireless service companies agreed to adopt programs that would disable the devices after they are reported stolen. A system announced this week would enable service providers to recognize through a centralized database when a phone has been reported as stolen and cut off service.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski made the announcement flanked by big city police chiefs and representatives of the wireless industry. He noted that the FCC, law enforcement and wireless providers are “sending a message to consumers that we’ve got your back,” and letting criminals know the crackdown means the end of their theft business.
As the technology of cell phones has advanced, the devices - commonly known as smart phones - have became more expensive and in turn more valuable for resale by thieves. Stolen cell phones are even sold overseas by black market operators that specialize in the devices.
Subsequently, more U.S. cities have been reporting increases in smart phone thefts, and the devices have become a favorite of those criminals who target individuals, residences, businesses and automobiles. Law enforcement officials noted that more than 40 percent of robberies in New York involve cell phones and many of the incidents can turn violent, with several instances of victims receiving fatal injuries.
Already signaling they will participate in the upcoming plan are major cell phone carriers that provide wireless service to about 90 percent of U.S. subscribers.
The database behind the effort will record unique identifying numbers of stolen cell phones, and the report of a stolen device will allow access to shut down the cell phone before it can be reactivated. After it is opened, the database will be running within six months and become international within 18 months. If successful, stolen cell phones will be useless, worthless and remove any reason for taking them.