Last year you might recall that AT&T was sued for enabling and profiting off of the theft of cell phones
, the plaintiffs alleging that AT&T and other carriers intentionally don't do a very good job tracking and shutting down stolen phones, so that they can sell new service to both victims and
thieves that bring the stolen devices into stores. After the lawsuit brought attention to AT&T's failure to do much about theft, they and other carriers launched a nationwide database
to track stolen phones by IMEI number. AT&T also launched a stolen phone website with safety tips
According to a new New York Times
stories, the countermeasures don't appear to be working particularly well. According to the Times
, the national database doesn't help stop phones stolen then shipped overseas, and it's not particularly hard to modify a phone's IMEI number (I recently had to do it after a Cyanogenmod install on a Galaxy S3 wiped my IMEI).
Just as we've seen with cramming
, cellphone thefts are actually profitable for carriers, so there's little incentive for them to help address the issue. Only last year did we start to see increased regulator and legal pressure on carriers to do something, but law enforcement continues to argue that carriers aren't doing enough:
“The carriers are not innocent in this whole game. They are making profit off this,” said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the police department of the District of Columbia, where a record 1,829 cellphones were taken in robberies last year.
With politicians and regulators traditionally too afraid to challenge large carriers for their culpability and inaction on issues like this, they're instead proposing bad laws to help "fix" the problem, like making modifying phone identifiers illegal. In conjunction with recent fracas on phone unlocking now being illegal
, that means my above-mentioned personal repair attempt of my Galaxy S3 makes me the worst kind of criminal. Needless to say, such laws are something the Electronic Frontier Foundation is fighting.