Global Stolen Phone Database Could Cut Crime


The four major US carriers have completed work on a joint database for registering and tracking stolen phones. It will integrate with international databases, which could cut down one form of organized phone theft.

The database involves AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, and is overseen by industry group CTIA-The Wireless Association. It’s the final step in a program launched last year that also involved educational campaigns to urge customers to use security locks and remote locking/locating/wiping apps. It also involved an agreement to give customers a reminder of how to use security locks, either during the activation process or soon after.

The main part of the agreement was to create a shared database of stolen phones to reduce cases of people stealing a phone and then registering it with a rival carrier. That was completed for GSM phones last year and for LTE phones this week.

According to CTIA chief Steve Largent, the LTE database is now global, allowing overseas carriers to block stolen handsets. That’s a step further than the original plan and is aimed at stopping gangs that collect stolen handsets in bulk and ship them to other countries. Such tactics appear to be a major reason why the GSM database doesn’t appear to have had a major impact on phone theft rates so far.

CTIA has also given its backing to proposed legislation that would make it a specific offense to modify a phone to change its identification number (such as an IMEI) without authorization in an attempt to bypass such databases.

The database isn’t enough to keep law enforcement agencies happy however. In particular, district attorneys have complained about the lack of a universal “kill switch” in Android handsets that would allow users to remotely deactivate a stolen phone and make it useless to thieves, even if they tried a factory reset.

There’s a suggestion that carrier pressure has stopped this happening, with the obvious potential conflict of interests that carriers make money when customers have to buy a new handset to replace a stolen one.

[Photo Credit: West Midlands Police (CC)]