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Police, Wireless Companies Team Up On Smart Phone Thefts

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D.C. police have made some headway in their fight with wireless service providers to get them to help prevent smart phone thefts.
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D.C. police have made some headway in their fight with wireless service providers to get them to help prevent smart phone thefts.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier appears to have scored a major victory in her campaign to combat smart phone thefts. She was joined Tuesday morning by company officials from wireless companies, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, and law enforcement officials from other major U.S. cities to announce plans for a database that they hope will curb the theft of phones across the country.

After heavy lobbying from Lanier and other big city police chiefs, cell phone companies have agreed to work together to create a centralized database that will record smartphones' unique identifying numbers. That way, wireless carriers that receive a report of a stolen smartphone will be able to recognize the device and block it from being used again. By remotely "bricking" mobile devices, victims of theft can render them permanently disabled, ruining their potential resale value on the black market.

It's a policy that other countries -- such as Australia and the United Kingdom -- have long used, and one that Chief Lanier has been eager to adopt since smart phone thefts have played such a big part in the city's recent spike in robberies

In fact, just a few weeks ago, Lanier appeared on NBC's Today Show to plead her case. When asked about her message for the wireless industry, she said, "Shame on you. This is something that is fixable. It's not all about profit."

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who lent his support to the announcement, further announced plans to introduce legislation on Capitol Hill making it illegal to scratch off cell phone ID numbers -- one of the major identifiers that protects cell phone owners in the event of theft.

Details of the stolen-phone database have not yet been worked out, but wireless carriers have all agreed to participate.

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