All four of the major US wireless carriers have agreed to work with the Federal Communications Commission to disable lost or stolen mobile phones. The so-called PROTECT initiative will create a national database into which carriers will enter the IMEI numbers of phones reported stolen. Once the number is entered into the database, the phone will be deactivated, even if a new SIM card is inserted. A similar system has helped decrease phone theft in Europe, and some US carriers are already disabling stolen phones. The FCC expects all the major carriers to be able to disable phones within 6 months, and expects the carriers’ databases to be merged over the next 18 months.
The industry’s efforts were applauded by law enforcement groups. Local police around the country have seen a marked increase in phone theft as thieves target smartphones and the data they carry. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, one of 17 major city police chiefs who wrote to the FCC in February asking for this action, said the database will “turn highly prized stolen property into worthless chunks of plastic.”
The agreement to create a national database also won praise from Senator Charles Schumer, who has taken a very active stance on issues related to the security of mobile devices. “Our goal is to make a stolen cell phone as worthless as an empty wallet,” said Schumer. This week the senator also introduced legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with a phone’s IMEI number.
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