The stolen cellphone trade is brisk business here in the U.S.; according to the FCC, a third off all robberies involves a burgled handset. Why are black market phones so popular? The answer is simple: they continue to work even after being pilfered -- at least for now. Today, the government is scheduled to announce a new initiative, backed by the four major carriers, which will turn swiped smartphones in nothing more than useless electronic bricks. Eventually, at least.
European networks already disable stolen smartphones, and theft rates in those countries are much lower as a result. The New York Times (and many, many others) report that under the new plan, the four major carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint -- will begin disabling phones that have been reported as stolen. That's expected to begin inside the next six months; sometime in the next year and a half, the four carriers -- with the help of the FCC -- will establish a central database to prevent stolen cellphones from being activated on any of the major networks, effectively blocking their use completely.
The FCC and the cellular carriers are also joining forces with a handful of Congressional types to try and make it a crime to fiddle with a phone's identifying numbers in order to circumvent the banhammer. “Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet,” New York Senator Charles Shumer told the Times.
Education is another goal: carriers also plan on informing less informed smartphone owners how to track and remotely wipe their stolen handsets.