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article imageNew database will 'brick' stolen phones, help stop mobile theft

By Stephanie Medeiros     Apr 10, 2012 in Technology
In 2011 alone, cellphone theft accounted for 40 percent of all robberies in the United States. However, a new initiative will soon try to help lower mobile theft by opting users to "brick" their own phones.
Announced Tuesday, a collaboration between legislation, cellphone providers, and the police has created a database where stolen phones can be easily tracked and then "bricked," or made essentially unusable by the thief or anyone else.
To ensure the database is effective, USA Today reports that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is now proposing a bill which will reinforce the usage of the giant database by making it completely illegal to reactivate or "tamper" with an already bricked phone.
The database in question is utilizing already established databases of cellphone user's special phone ID's--called an IMEI---to track their phones. When a customer calls their cellphone provider to report their device stolen, the phone can be searched for on the system and automatically "shut down" to prevent it from being used by the thief or anybody.
Major carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have already agreed to the database, with most carriers setting up a special number customers can call to have their phone shut off. The database also doesn't record or save personal data, only the phone ID to keep track of its whereabouts.
The most common thefts for phones, especially expensive smartphones such as iPhone and Android devices, have been in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and most recently Washington D.C. The database will be gradually rolled out in the span of the next 18 months.
Most thefts of smartphones see the device being resold online at a significantly higher price, usually wiped clean of all of its previous owner's data and commonly sold overseas. However, this new initiative is hoping this will reduce the number of thefts because the device won't be able to be reactivated at all after being bricked, and it will be illegal to try to do so.
There are other options for mobile users instead of bricking their phone, too. iPhone users can use the "Find My iPhone" app as well as other apps to keep track or wipe data from a stolen phone. Android users can find similar services as well as BlackBerry owners. However, police in areas of high mobile theft think this new database will help lower smartphone theft altogether more than the options currently provided.
According to ZDNet, places such as the United Kingdom and Australia already have something similar implemented. ZDNet also reported the service sees a high success rate in these countries, with 50,000 devices discovered in the first nine months of operation.
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