Major U.S. Carriers Agree to Develop Centralized Database to Track Stolen Mobile Phones

The Wall Street Journal reports that the four major U.S. wireless carriers have reached an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission to work toward a centralized database to track and disable stolen mobile phones.
The database, which the wireless companies will build and maintain, will be designed to track phones that are reported as lost or stolen and deny them voice and data service. The idea is to reduce crime by making it difficult or impossible to actually use a stolen device, reducing resale value.

Currently, Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. block phones that are reported stolen from being reactivated. AT&T Inc. and Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile USA don't. All four have agreed to be part of the new database.
The report cites a study from the New York Police Department showing that electronics are now the most commonly stolen type of property, with mobile phones accounting for over 80% of thefts in that category.

According to the plan, the major carriers will develop individual databases within six months, integrating them over the following 12 months. Smaller carriers will also join the database after that point. The database will also be interoperable with similar efforts in other countries to allow for international tracking of stolen phones, although many countries have yet to develop such databases.

As noted by ifoAppleStore, Apple has typically taken a hands-off approach when it comes to stolen phones, with Genius Bar staff routinely offering free warranty replacements in exchange for stolen phones. Apple's policies reportedly stem from a lack of centralized tracking of stolen devices and a desire to not become involved in potential confrontations over the stolen merchandise, but an official database supported by the carriers could help Apple become more proactive about handling stolen iPhones.

Top Rated Comments

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101 months ago

No one has to be. It's the truth...

Utter nonsense!

Explain how telling your carrier the IMEI (which they already know) of a device you no longer have is going to help them (or the government) track you?

People really have to think before they write.

You'd give the police the licence plate number of your car if it was stolen wouldn't you?
Rating: 15 Votes
101 months ago
Hasn't the UK had this for years? I think a lot of 'blocked' phones end up getting exported.
Rating: 11 Votes
101 months ago
this is only good news, only thieves or people complicit in stolen phones would oppose this.
Rating: 8 Votes
101 months ago

So you have a way for phones to be shut off in mass. Say activists are using mobile devices to get people to show up in one place. Those activists phones are reported stolen by some crazy coincidence. Phones are all deactivated around time of rally, protest or whatever. Kinda like how they do it now, but without needing to shut off towers.

My God, they can do that withouth any new registry.

Really, do you understand what are we talking about or you're only raging about how bads are Feds?
Rating: 7 Votes
101 months ago

How long until Feds and Local Law are abusing this?

And how can they abuse it?

So at any time they could track a non-stolen phone?

Surprise, they can do that NOW
Rating: 6 Votes
101 months ago
So what the heck took so long? Unforgivable. And Apple made it worse by guaranteeing to legitimize stolen phones. :mad:
Rating: 5 Votes
101 months ago
Every step taken towards making a stolen phone less usable makes stealing them less profitable, and so reduces crime. Good news.
Rating: 5 Votes
101 months ago

Why would you need to do that if you have access to the list or can add numbers to the list without the carriers even knowing? It seems like the system will allow local police to access and amend the list to their liking, and not vice versa with the carriers in charge of who gets shut down.

The database would not allow that to happen. It would require a link back to a carrier, so that the carrier could remove a device from the database if it was recovered and the customer requested that the device be removed from the database.

When a device is reported lost or stolen, it's not always going to be gone forever. It might be that the customer finds it at the back of their sofa an hour after reporting it lost! The system must be flexible enough to deal with that.

Even if the police could access the list, they'd need to know the customer's IMEI - obtaining that would require just as much legal work as going through a legitimate channel to block the customer's device/service. If they did block the device in this manner, the customer could have the block removed in just a few minutes with a single call to their carrier. Other methods of disabling the service would be longer lasting and much simpler to implement.
Rating: 4 Votes
101 months ago

Because it's a more direct and targeted approach. You still need a court order to shut down towers at the moment.

But you don't need a court order to phone up a customer's carrier, impersonate them and report their phone stolen?

You could do far more effective things if you're prepared to be that illegal.

Why not just phone the carrier and cancel the contract instantly? It would be a lot harder for a customer to reverse that in a short period of time.
Rating: 4 Votes
101 months ago

So at any time they could track a non-stolen phone?

Yes, but not because of this.

The database will only contain the IMEI of devices that have been reported stolen.

If your phone isn't stolen/lost, then it's not in the database.

That doesn't mean that your carrier can't track you anyway, they pretty much have to do that in order to provide you with service.


God, stop arguing for the sake of arguing. It can be abused under the same premise that current phone registries are abused. IT'S JUST ANOTHER SOURCE FOR ABUSE.

How is it?

You keep ignoring the key point:

The database only contains IMEIs of stolen devices

The device that you have in your pocket right now isn't going to be in the database unless it's stolen.

i.e. they cannot ever track you using this database

I'd be very happy for the authorities to track down whoever stole my phone.

In the event that the phone is recovered, it would be removed from the database by contacting your carrier (if they didn't remove it, then it wouldn't work!).

In that event, your phone is no longer on the database, so you can put your tinfoil hat back in the cupboard.

As has been said repeatedly, the carriers and phone manufacturers already have the IMEIs of the devices people are using for obvious reasons. All that's new here is that someone's creating a database that says "these devices have been reported lost or stolen" - nothing more, nothing less. There's nothing in this database that cannot be found in a more convenient place by the carriers or the government. What do you think is going to happen?

"You had an iPhone 4S stolen last week - off to Guantanamo bay"
Rating: 4 Votes

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