FCC Announces Plans to Reduce Smartphone Thefts, Protect Data

by Borderstan.com April 12, 2012 at 8:00 am 2,217 0

"Borderstan" "Smartphones" "Corcoran Street NW"

How smart are you with your smartphone in public? (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Cody Telep. Follow him on Twitter @codywt, email him at cody[AT]borderstan.com.

If you live in this part of DC, you know how many cell phones/Smartphones are stolen. Apple’s iPhone and the Droid devices are major targets for robbers.

At a press conference on Tuesday morning at the Wilson Building, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski announced new plans to  eliminate high rates of cell phone theft.

Genachowski was joined by Metropolitan Police Chief (MPD) Cathy Lanier, Mayor Vincent Gray, Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) and police leaders including New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Philadelphia Police Commissioner and former MPD Chief Charles Ramsey, and Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn.

Smartphone theft has risen steadily across the last year. According to MPD figures, cell phones were taken in 54 percent more robberies in 2011 than in 2007. Cell phones are stolen in 38 percent of all robberies citywide.

Genachowski described three new initiatives designed to make stealing cell phones less profitable and to help ensure that consumer personal data is not compromised as a result of theft (see more from CTIA-The Wireless Association and the FCC).


A database will be created to help monitor stolen phones and tablets to ensure that these items are disabled and not reactivated. The database will make use of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, which are unique cell phone identifiers similar to Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) for cars. By October 31 of this year, each of the major wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) will participate to design a database that blocks any stolen GSM (commonly known as 3G) smartphone from being activated on any U.S. GSM network. By November 30, 2013, the database will be expanded to include LTE (commonly known as 4G) smartphones.

Under the current system, customers can deactivate the SIM card for their smartphone, but this still allows the stolen phone to be resold on the black market with a new SIM card inserted. The new database will prevent stolen phones from being used at all. Senator Schumer also announced plans to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with or alter a phone’s IMEI number.

Password to Lock Device

In order to help personal data, customers will be notified upon activating a new smartphone about setting up a password to lock the device. This notification will be put into place by April 30, 2013. By the end of this year, information on setting a phone password will be included in instruction manuals.

Public Education Campaign

The FCC and wireless companies will work together on a public education campaign to encourage consumers to take measures to avoid theft and also to download applications that can be used to locate and/or wipe clean missing phones (e.g. the Find My iPhone app). The FCC began this effort with a tip sheet released today.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, the main industry group for wireless carriers, will announce progress on these initiatives quarterly and the FCC plans to meet with major city police chiefs quarterly to discuss the success of these programs.

Victory for Chief Lanier

Today’s announcement marked a victory for Chief Lanier, as DCist noted. On March 22, she appeared on NBC’s Today Show and had a harsh message for wireless providers reluctant to prevent stolen cell phones from being reused: “Shame on you. This is something that is fixable. Why wouldn’t you in the name of customer service and safety want to protect your customer? It’s not just about profit” (see Police Chief Lanier Takes Wireless Companies to Task for Policies from March 26). These new FCC initiatives will accomplish exactly what Chief Lanier was asking the wireless companies for.

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