Is it Time for a National Stolen Smartphone Registry?

Thefts of smartphones and other high tech mobile devices have become one of the greatest fears of consumers in major metropolitan areas. While sometimes fears like this are the result of media sensationalism, the numbers that keep coming out to support this trend are staggering.

In New York City alone, between January 1st and September 23rd of this year, the NYPD have received reports of 11,447 thefts of just iDevices. That’s a healthy 40 percent jump in cases from that same time the previous year, and also barely takes into account the time of the new iPhone 5’s release. In New York, and other large cities, this has led to a plastering of ads in subway stations, street corners, and televisions that urge citizens to be more aware of their surroundings and their usage of their devices to try to trim down on theft. This has also been coupled with sting operations to catch people selling stolen devices in bulk, as well as a greater police presence in areas like subway stations where theft is most common.

For their part, Apple has long touted a free “Find My Phone” app, that can not only locate a stolen phone using GPS features, but also lock the device remotely with a password. Android users also have a range of  security apps available such as Cerebus, which can take photos of your device’s current location, perform system wipes and locks, locate your phone remotely, and even take an automatic photo if someone enters your password wrong. Even though some of the more clever burglars are becoming aware of these apps and finding ways around them, it is still somewhat reassuring to know that the manufacturers themselves are also aware of this issue and are at least attempting to take all the steps they can to help out, much like the police seem to be doing

However, given the jump in thefts even with such measures in place, there are those who feel that it’s time for phone carriers to step up and do their part.

Specifically, the movement is gaining steam in Canada where an outbreak of violent crimes relating to stolen smart devices has the country in an uproar. The government is insisting that phone companies create a stolen smartphone and tablet registry, before they must force them to do so. The idea of a registry would be to prevent the resale of stolen devices by providing an official record of them. A similar action is also being called for by some in America where the crimes are equally rampant.

While it may not represent a perfect solution to the problem, it instead encourages a measure of corporate responsibility. Why hasn’t this been done yet? The biggest reason is cost, as phone companies are apparently shuddering at the financial implications of such a movement, although exact figures haven’t been provided. Canada’s government is asking for the major carriers to provide that information to them in an effort to get the ball rolling on the initiative once and for all. There is also loose talk that a national registry would hurt the providers in the lucrative second hand markets they encourage, though this is not the official statement.

Considering the reliance people put in their smart devices, it’s uncomfortable for many users to think that the age old crime move of snatch and grab is more dangerous (and lucrative) than ever. While awareness movements prompt users to not display their devices in public places, understandably consumers feel like they should be able to use their phones and tablets somewhere besides the safety of their work or homes. It’s also a somewhat insulting idea that victims of theft are somehow “asking for it” even if there are incidents of displaying an item in high profile prior to its taking.

Whether or not it is the ultimate answer then, it seems like the only party not taking a greater leap in prevention are the phone companies, and a national registry of stolen gadgets would at least add another weapon to the fight. Otherwise, we may see more and more violent incidents of robbery, and of people misguidedly taking actions into their own hands to try and protect their prized possessions.

  

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