FCC Wants Cell Phone Theft Tech to be ‘Opt Out’

FCC boss Tom Wheeler is urging carriers to to include anti-theft measures in all cell phones. According to a statement, the FCC’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), acting through its Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group, has released recommendations urging that anti-theft functionality like remote-locking and remote-data-wiping should be activated on all mobile phones by default and users should have to “opt out” to disable them.

“If implemented, these features will result in more consumers using these powerful features which, in turn, will mark a key milestone in combating smart phone theft,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Two years ago wireless carriers and the government announced that they’d be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number, not just the SIM card ID). The goal was to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance.

The move came after AT&T was sued for doing little to track or stop theft, the lawsuit alleging it was more profitable to do nothing and cash in on stolen phone re-activations. The lawsuit (and government prodding) spurred AT&T to develop new anti-theft tools, and carriers in general have been working hard to try and prove they care about cell phone theft.

Still, law enforcement has complained the database has proven ineffective because many phones wind up overseas, and cell phone thefts in 2013 doubled. As a result, New York and San Francisco lawmakers recently started pushing laws that mandate a “kill switch” — or a phone function that would automatically render a phone useless once its owner has reported it stolen. Carriers however have fought the idea for years because, again, they tend to make money on the re-purposing of stolen devices.

Though profit may be their primary motivation in fighting the efforts, carriers are joined by a number of security analysts who correctly argue that if a user can remotely cripple a device using these tools — so could a hacker.

 

Source: DSL Reports

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