AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile USA agree to block stolen phones


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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Martha DeGrasse

Wireless Martha DeGrasse has been creating content for RCR Wireless News since 2011. Recent feature reports include Building Tomorrow's Neworks, Outdoor DAS and Small Cell Case Studies, Wireless Infrastructure Service Company Review, and Investing in HetNets. (All of these can be found by clicking on Reports at the top of this page.) At RCR, Martha also developed the 5 Things to Know Today series and the Mobile Minute. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York. Martha left Dow Jones to move to Austin, Texas, where she managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Follow her on Twitter @mdegrasseRCR