US mobile operators to fight phone theft

2012-04-10 11:26

Washington - US wireless carriers representing 90% of subscribers will on Tuesday announce the creation of a database of unique cellphone IDs to help prevent theft and reactivation of stolen or lost devices, which often contain sensitive personal data.

The shared database will be up and running in the US in six months and the carriers plan to expand it globally over 18 months, said the Federal Communications Commission, which along with the carriers will unveil the scheme.

FCC officials said the centralised database will allow consumers to notify their wireless provider of a theft and in turn their provider will block the device from being used again.

Legislation backed by Senator Charles Schumer would also make it a federal crime to tamper with the unique IDs in an effort to deter attempts to evade the database.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile USA, who will share the database, represent 90% of US wireless subscribers.

Crime boom

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, while T-Mobile USA is owned by Deutsche Telekom AG.

The booming demand for mobile devices like Apple Inc's iPad tablet and Google Inc's suite of Android-powered smartphones has been coupled with a similar boom in crime involving these devices.

Cellphones were taken in 54% more robberies during 2011 in Washington, DC, than in 2007, and are targeted in 38% of all robberies in the capital, FCC officials said.

Similar statistics ring true in New York, Philadelphia and other major cities, the FCC reported, with many instances leading to serious injury or death.

The FCC will also announce industry plans to better educate consumers on how to combat cell phone and data theft.

User guides and messages on the smartphone itself will relay the importance of protecting wireless devices with passwords, and wireless customers will be provided with information about mobile apps that allow them to remotely lock and locate their device as well as wipe it of all data.