Stolen cellphone registry

This is a proper role for federal government

The question of whether or not to look to the federal government for assistance in dealing with life’s issues has been heightened in recent months. Many issues have been with us for some time and are growing, such as the composition of school lunch menus, expanded prohibitions against smoking and mandated pedestrian-safety equipment on automobiles.

The above include how to reduce obesity in children and secondhand smoke in public places, and how to prevent accidents while backing up a vehicle that often involve a child. Mandating a $200 rear-view camera could save about 200 lives annually, but at a cost to manufacturers and thus vehicle purchasers. Is that worth it?

In the last few weeks, stolen cellphones have been a focus of attention.

Numerous crimes are being committed, some violent, for the sake of commandeering a cellphone. Thieves then reactivate the phone for their own use, perhaps briefly, before discarding it and stealing another.

The solution to reducing the number of incidents of this crime is believed to be a registry of stolen phones that would make it possible to prevent them for being reused with the same or other carriers.

When the idea of a no-restart registry surfaced, a couple of provider companies stepped up to say that they agreed with the need and would participate; others, however, did not. Weighing on their decision, no doubt, was that carriers can earn revenue from stolen phones.

Then the Federal Communications Commission joined the discussion, urged by some members of Congress.

The result is that the FCC will now begin to create the registry, aggregating the stolen cellphone codes from multiple signal carrier companies.

Could the companies have done this themselves, without the government facilitating the effort? Perhaps, but initial efforts revealed their reluctance and the logistical challenges. And, had one or two companies refused to participate, thieves would have know to target those cellphones.

Media reporting about the coming registry will go a long way to discourage cellphone thefts and associated violence. But the reports have not yet included just what this new venture will cost the FCC to implement and then to police. It will certainly be something.

But our reaction is that here is a task that we want federal government to undertake – individual state registries would be clumsy, ineffective and probably more expensive.

Could the law be ramped up so that the theft of a cellphone triggers a more serious criminal charge, as a deterrent, and avoid a no-restart registry kept by the FCC? Sure, automobile theft has such status. But for a cellphone thief to know that a stolen phone will go dead as soon as it is reported, likely within hours, seems to us to be a much more effective deterrent.

Here the government has a role.