At the FCC’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting on December 4th (FCC video – view from 39 minutes) Chairman Wheeler shared what he will be asking industry to do to reduce levels of mobile device theft.
Ensure that the lock/erase/restore functionalities built into many phones today is enabled by default.
This is important progress for consumers, many of whom choose not to enable such mechanisms. In future it is hoped they will have to actively choose to disable them. Consumer choice will not be restricted – but they will be protected by default. In the area of theft from consumers, such functionality is having an effect already. Changing the default configuration will ensure more consumers are protected.
Secure the unique device identifiers by ensuring they cannot be changed.
This is absolutely crucial to both the good operation of cellular networks and in the fight against crime. The practice of reprogramming is already outlawed in several countries but enforcement is virtually impossible. Making identifiers immutable at a hardware level will make circumvention uneconomical for criminals. At the same time it will ensure that existing tools such as cross-operator blocking continue to effectively contribute to the fight against device crime.
Improve use of data to stop the resale of stolen devices.
This request has three components and is the most significant recommendation. Data sharing is already used to reduce wider crimes involving corporate theft and contract fraud that blocking or ‘kill switch’ functions do not address but there are gaps that need to be addressed.
Some existing databases are slow and cumbersome
Industry needs to use the “best of breed” databases to share information.
Current systems have limitations at odds with the fast-paced world of wireless. It is clear that there is no technological barrier to having real-time data sharing between networks, law enforcement and traders. In Malaysia the Communications and Multimedia Commission has successfully implemented and will soon launch real-time blocking and information sharing between networks and other parties. The attentions of the FCC in this area should raise awareness with industry.
Industry must support law enforcement agencies in its actions
The Chairman sets the challenge “There must be an app for that!” Well, there is, of course, and it can be accessed by law enforcement officers from any smartphone, tablet or web browser at www.nmpr.com. This web application brings together databases old and new in one place that officers can use very simply. The global NMPR is used by over 80,000 police officers and staff in the UK and 75 agencies in the US are currently trialing its use. We anticipate that the FCC’s attention in this area will encourage all law enforcement agencies to explore this powerful tool.
Industry must take steps to verify that a device is not stolen when it is offered to them in trade
Some industry leaders including Sprint, Gamestop and Gazelle adopted such practices up to two years ago. They recognized that simply checking whether a phone is blocked by another network is not enough. Less than 50% ¹ of phones that are not in the hands of the rightful owner are reported to networks. Those subject to insurance claims, corporate theft, supply chain leakage, contract and rental fraud account for a massive amount of thefts that do not result in network blocking or kill switch activation. These can only be addressed by both data sharing from industry and appropriate due-diligence at the point of trade.
The Chairman’s requests to industry are clear, focused and actionable. The solutions to each challenge are available and cost effective. The wireless industry and law enforcement would do well to look closely at those solutions.
¹ As at 8th Dec 2014 US blocked phones accounts for 48.9% of the total US stolen phones that Recipero holds records of.