New Database Could Render Stolen Phones Useless


Stolen phones. Photo West Midlands Police  (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Stolen phones. Photo West Midlands Police (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Stolen phones could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a collaboration between the U.S government and the four biggest mobile carriers. The new scheme will use a central database of stolen handsets, and the carriers will use this to block their reactivation.

The idea is that it will reduce cellphone theft by making stolen phones virtually useless.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Verizon and Sprint already block stolen phones, while AT&T and T-Mobile don’t. Under the new plans, all four will share their information. This comes just in time for the switch to LTE, which will see all carriers using the same technology instead of the GSM/CDMA split of today.

This will only work to block cellphone and mobile data access, of course, and an iPhone or iPad with just a Wi-Fi connection is still a pretty powerful portable computer and camera. Then again, who’s going to buy a used iPhone from Ebay if they’re not sure it will even work?

My worry is that there will be a way around this. The checks will clearly need to use some unique identifier in handsets to identify the stolen ones. The first thing that comes to mind is the IMEI number, but it is possible to spoof that. Still, I guess the carriers and the government have something up their collective sleeves, as this scheme would be useless otherwise. And when do the government do anything stupid related to technology?