The FCC and wireless carriers are working together on a new plan that would try and discourage the theft of cellphones by rendering them useless once reported stolen. They hope to create a national database of stolen cellphones in coordination with law enforcement bodies across the country, allowing carriers to disable voice and data services on stolen phones altogether.
Right now if a cellphone is stolen, the user can call their carrier and cancel all service on that phone, but it doesn’t stop the thief from activating a new service. Whereas they wouldn’t be able to get away with that on Verizon, who block stolen cellphones, they could on AT&T and T-Mobile. All four major carriers have agreed to work together on the new database.
Carriers plan to use a UDID (Unique Device Identifier) for every phone, and build the database around that. If the carrier blocks a specific UDID, a new SIM card wouldn’t work in the handset, regardless of original or new carrier. The plan isn’t perfect, though: the block would only work in the United States. If stolen phones were shipped overseas, they would work in other countries, since there’s no worldwide database of stolen phones.
The plan is similar to what some countries, like the UK, already have. For example, if a phone is stolen in England and you have the phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, you can call the carrier and block that phone from being used ever again on any carrier in the country. The FCC wants there to be compatibility between different countries, but there’s no guarantee that the plan will be enforceable across the globe.