The Federal Communications Commission is teaming up with AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint to create a database of stolen phones.
The database will deter theft by preventing reactivation of phones that have been reported stolen. In addition, any calls made from a stolen phone will be immediately blocked. As a result, thieves won't have access to voice or data communications.
The database, as well as other changes in the way mobile service providers communicate with customers about protecting their data and devices, have been collectively labelled the PROTECTS Initiative by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The individual carriers are expected to enact the changes within six months, and the FCC will merge their disparate efforts into one nationwide database within a year.
A rising problem
In the past year, Genachowski said in a statement, the number of Americans with smartphones doubled, and the rate at which consumers are acquiring smartphones and tablets is creating safety concerns.
Working with law enforcement agencies in several cities, the FCC determined that roughly 40 percent of all robberies in cities like D.C. and New York involve cell phones.
Robbery is a violent crime, but it's not just victims' physical safety that's at stake, Genachowski said. Personal information is also gleaned from stolen phones, a trend these measures are meant to buck.
The FCC also encourages mobile carriers to implement customer education initiatives that would help prevent phones and data from being stolen.
These initiatives include prompting users to set passwords on their devices, informing them how to remotely lock, locate, or wipe data from their phones, and a media campaign on protecting consumers' phones and selves from harm.
The FCC claims the wireless industry will update them on their progress with these initiatives on a quarterly basis.
Criminalizing of phone tampering
In confluence with these initiatives, members of Congress will introduce legislation that would criminalize tampering with phones to hinder the database's ability to identify them. This includes altering a phone's unique hardware identifier, which would be a federal crime under the new legislation.
"I'm very pleased that the industry has responded," Genachowski said. "With today's announcement, we're sending a message to consumers that we've got your back, and a message to criminals that we're cracking down on the stolen phone and tablet re-sale market and making smartphone theft a crime that doesn't pay."