The plan to build a unified database containing the details of all phones reported stolen in the US took a step forward this week, as the first of its kind, managed jointly by AT&T and T-Mobile, went live.
Announced back in April this year, the Federal Communications Commission brokered a deal between the all four of the US’s major network providers, and set a deadline for October 31 to get the database up and running.
It works like this: When a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI number — unique to every phone, and not tied to the easily removed SIM card — is logged and blocked, stopping it from ever being re-connected.
As networks already block the SIM card when a phone is reported stolen, avoiding unwanted charges on the customers bill, blocking the IMEI renders the phone useless too.
This should make the theft of mobile phones less attractive to criminals, as savvy buyers should be asking for, then checking the IMEI with their carrier to make sure it’s genuine and can be re-used.
AT&T and T-Mobile have created a joint database, as they’re both GSM networks and stolen phones could be connected to either one, while Verizon and Sprint are working on their own shared database. Both currently use internal lists of stolen phones.
By this time next year, all four databases will be pooled together, and smaller carriers will also have joined the scheme. Then, it will be merged with the GSMA’s international database to help prevent stolen phones being shipped in or out of the country.
Similar schemes are already in operation all over the world, and many have been for at least a decade, with countries such as the UK and Australia even providing websites where IMEI numbers can easily be checked by members of the public.
According to one mobile security firm, speaking to the Huffington Post, it’s estimated that mobile phone thefts will cost the American consumer $30 billion this year alone, making the database scheme highly desirable.