Smartphone anti-theft plan seems, um, smart
By Dale McFeatters
Cellphones readily lend themselves to theft. People strolling along city streets chatting away on cells are not paying attention to their surroundings ― you can see it in that faraway look when they talk ― and are easy prey for snatch-and-run robbers.
When cellphones became smartphones, they became really worth stealing. And a lot of them are getting stolen. New York police say that 42 percent of all property crimes in the city involve cellphones. Houston reported an astonishing 3,506 cellphones stolen last year.
Unfortunately, these robberies were sometimes accompanied by a certain amount of violence.
The thieves only need to slide in a new SIM ― subscriber identity module ― card to make the phone their own and discard the rightful owner's card, along with the personal-ID information, phonebook and text messages it contains.
The thieves can then use the phone themselves or sell it online or to an unscrupulous merchant.
But now, prodded by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Federal Communications Commission and the major cellphone carriers ― Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile ― have agreed to participate in a new database of ID numbers unique to each phone. Once a phone is reported stolen, the carriers can permanently disable it, making it, in Schumer's words, "as worthless as an empty wallet."
This solution to the problem of cellphone theft seems so simple and obvious that it makes you wonder why the smart people behind smartphones didn't think of it sooner.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (scrippsnews.com).