FCC database to track stolen phones

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Federal Communications Commission is hoping to drastically reduce cellphone theft with the introduction of a new, national database of phone IDs.

The idea is that it would be possible to report a phone as lost or stolen, after which voice and data service would be cut off, making the device virtually worthless.

According to Reuters, the FCC's persuaded Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to sign up for the scheme, covering 90 percent of the cellphones in the US. Smaller regional carriers are expected to follow suit.

The firms will start creating the databases over the next six months, and will merge them into a single list in around two years' time.

According to some reports, as many as 40 percent of all robberies involve the theft of a mobile phone.

"It's just too easy for a thief to steal a phone and sell it on the black market," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told The New York Times.

"This program will make it a lot harder to do that. And the police departments we are working with tell us that it will significantly deter this kind of theft."

The project isn't as straightforward as it seems, thanks to the fact that GSM phones, unlike their CDMA counterparts, identify phones through their SIM card only. For the database to be effective, carriers will need to start checking the phones themselves for ID.

Similar schemes operate in other countries, including the UK, Germany and Australia. In the UK, the National Mobile Phone Register has been in operation for nearly two years, locating and identifying more than 50,000 phones in its first nine months of operation.