Earlier this week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, together with major U.S. wireless carriers and chiefs of police, announced a plan to develop databases that will allow consumers whose mobile devices have been stolen to render the devices inoperable on mobile networks.  The database will be created over the next eighteen months. 

Using the planned system, customers could report their phone stolen to their carrier, which would then render the phone inoperable on its network remotely using the unique ID associated with each mobile device.  At first, carriers would only render the stolen device inoperable on their own network; eventually, carriers will work together to render devices inoperable on all major networks.  The database system will be created by major U.S. wireless carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, with the support of phone manufacturers, mobile OS makers, and CTIA, the wireless industry trade association. 

Genachowski stated that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will introduce legislation that would support the initiative by making it a crime to tamper with the unique identifiers on mobile devices.  He also stated that wireless carriers would set up automatic prompts on devices encouraging consumers to use passwords and that the FCC and others would undertake a public education campaign promoting mobile device security, including promoting use of remote “wipe” data erasure features in the event of theft.

It is possible that this development and others like it will improve consumer confidence in the security of data on mobile devices; as we have discussed previously, consumer concerns over mobile data security reportedly have hindered the growth of certain mobile services that depend on sensitive data, such as mobile financial services.