Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has found a way to make a federal case out of the rampant problem of mobile device theft. The Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2012, introduced on Wednesday, would make altering a stolen cellphone's unique identification number a crime punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.
The bill is meant to work in harmony with an initiative of the Federal Communications Commission and leading mobile carriers. They announced in April a plan to create and maintain a list of the unique identifiers of stolen cellphones, in order to make sure those devices can't be active on any network.
"Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet," Schumer said at the time.
Changing a phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number isn't simply a matter of unlocking the device from a specific carrier, jailbreaking it or getting root access to the operating system. Changing a phone's IMEI number is more akin to changing a serial number -- something that is done to render the device untraceable.The practice has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 2002.
CTIA President Steve Largent released a statement in support of the bill, and the group also plans to help administer the national database of blacklisted IMEI numbers.