FCC and Cellphone Carriers Agree to Centralized Database to Shut Off Reported Stolen Cellphones

(Photo: Gary Willmore/Flickr)

WASHINGTON (The Blaze/AP) — Cellphone companies and the government are trying to make it as difficult to use a stolen cellphone as it is to sell a stolen car.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement late Monday that major cellphone carriers and the Federal Communications Commission have agreed to set up a database of identification numbers that are unique to each phone.

Using the list, cellular carriers will be able to permanently disable a phone once it’s been reported stolen. Until now, U.S. carriers have only been disabling so-called “SIM” cards, which can be swapped in and out. That’s enabled a black market to exist for stolen phones.

Schumer said that the goal of the agreement is to make a stolen cellphone “as worthless as an empty wallet.”

The Wall Street Journal reports cellphone theft as one of the fastest growing crimes according to law enforcement. It notes that the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is composed of 70 police chiefs, asked for the FCC to require carriers to disable devices completely when reported stolen in a February report:

In New York there were more than 26,000 incidents of electronics theft in the first 10 months of 2011 — 81 percent  involving mobile phones — according to an internal police-department document reported by the New York Daily News.

The report said electronics are now the most stolen type of property, surpassing cash. In Washington, D.C., cellphone-related robberies jumped 54 percent from 2007 to 2011 according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Schumer has said that unique ID numbers known as International Mobile Equipment Identity numbers are already effectively used in Europe to deter stealing. WSJ reports that in London cellphone thefts have declined to 8,000 per month, compared to 10,000 per month in 2004.

Schumer also said he will introduce legislation to make it a federal crime to alter or tamper with a phone’s IMEI number.

WSJ reports carriers will begin creating their own databases, which will then be merged into a centralized database about 12 months after creation.