Verizon, Other Major Carriers Join FCC, CTIA in Smartphone Theft Crackdown

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are working with the FCC, police chiefs and CTIA on a nationwide database that hopes to turn stolen smartphones into worthless paperweights.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have all agreed to register phones that have been reported stolen into a nationwide database. It€™s hoped that the database program, established in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission; CTIA, The Wireless Association; and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, an affiliation of 70 police chiefs from around the United States and Canada, will help deter the rising number of mobile device thefts.
€œTechnology gives criminals new kinds of opportunities €¦ and we always have to stay one step ahead of criminals and terrorists,€ said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of a number of speakers at an April 10 press conference announcing the registry program. €œWhat we€™re announcing today will turn a cell phone into the equivalent of an empty wallet.€
Smartphones and other electronics are now the most stolen type of property, surpassing even cash, The Wall Street Journal reported April 10. Accordingly, these thefts of feature phones and smartphones€”can tablets and iPads be far behind?€”have been keeping police officers busy, too busy. Pressure to establish the database came from the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA).
Charles Ramsey, head of the MCCA and commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, explained that hearing about cell phone thefts makes people think of devices being pick-pocketed or snatched off desks. The reality, he explained, is quite different.
€œIn most instances, especially in Philadelphia, they€™re being taken at gunpoint,€ said Ramsey. €œIt€™s very serious. Like during the Air Jordan years €¦ kids are being shot over their phones.€
The plan, details of which are still to be worked out, will let carriers quickly list the electronic serial number of a stolen device€”at least in the case of the Code Divisiion Multiple Access (CDMA) devices offered by Verizon and Sprint. AT&T and T-Mobile support GSM devices, which are recognized by their SIM cards, making a solution less straightforward. The SIM card issue suggests why AT&T and T-Mobile don€™t already block phones reported as stolen from being reactivated, as Verizon and Sprint do.
CTIA, in a press statement, announced that four key steps are being taken. First, wireless providers will deploy database solutions to house the information of stolen smartphones; GSM providers will develop and deploy a database designed to prevent stolen GSM phones from working on any GSM network.
Additionally, a common database for Long-Term Evolution (LTE) smartphones€”the technology to which GSM and CDMA handsets will eventually graduate€”will be established by Nov. 30, 2013.
Second, consumers will be notified and educated about capabilities for locking and securing devices, making them less usable to thieves. By the last day of 2012, smartphone makers will begin including information about how to secure or lock new smartphones in the boxes of new devices or on online €œQuick Start€ or user guides.
Third, providers will work to educate consumers about applications that can remotely lock devices or erase data. And, lastly, by July 1, the wireless industry will launch an education campaign for consumers about the safe use of smartphones.
€œBeginning June 30, CTIA will publish quarterly updates on its Website and submit a copy to the Federal Communications Commission, detailing progress, benchmarking milestones and indicating completion by industry and provider of the following deliverables: implementation of databases, information about applications to locate/lock/erase data from smartphones and efforts to educate consumers about smartphone theft, protections and preventative measures,€ CTIA said in its statement.
According to The Journal report, similar programs have been established in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia, with varying results. In London, 2011 cell phone-related crimes were down to 8,000 a month, from 10,000 a month in 2004. U.S. authorities are likely hoping for something still more effective.
€œCarriers will be able to, with the push of a button, turn highly prized cell phones into worthless pieces of plastic,€ said New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. €œIt€™s like draining the swamp to fight malaria.€