MANHATTAN — Officials are hoping that a new cellphone database will render stolen phones obsolete by allowing carriers to disable them remotely, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced Tuesday.
Under a deal with the Federal Communications Commission, major cell companies will set up a database storing all phones' International Mobile Equipment Identity — a type of serial number — that allows companies to disable phones if they are reported stolen.
"Our goal is to make a stolen cell phone as worthless as an empty wallet," Schumer said in a statement. "By permanently disabling stolen cell phones, we can take away the incentive to steal a cell phone in the first place and put a serious dent in the growing rates of iPhone and smart phone theft."
Schumer also introduced legislation that would make it illegal for people to tamper with or alter a phone's IMEI number.
Cell companies can currently disable a phone's SIM card, which stores a person's personal information, but can't completely shut off the phone, enabling them to be sold on the black market.
Officials hope the new database, which will take up to 18 months to complete, will help cut down on a growing trend of cell phone robberies.
Some 42 percent of all individual property crime in New York City involved a cell phone in 2011, according to police statistics.
The NYPD recently doubled the number of undercover officers acting as decoys in subways after a spike in electronics thefts.
"With the press of a button, carriers will be able to disable phones and turn highly prized stolen property into worthless chunks of plastic,” Kelly said in a statement. "Like draining the swamp to fight malaria, we’re trying to dry up the market to fight iPhone thefts."