Washington, DC -- Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-17) introduced legislation to protect cell phone users whose cell phones have been stolen.  The Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act amends the Communications Act to require wireless commercial services to cut off service to the stolen phone.

“It makes no sense to reward the thief by continuing service on a stolen cell phone.  It’s simple common sense to say the victim of a crime isn’t responsible for service they are no longer receiving.  If service is cut off on a stolen phone, it just becomes a useless brick.  The motivation to threaten, or commit violence, in order to steal a phone goes away.  By cutting off service, wireless companies will do wonders for public safety, and I am confident they will support this legislation,” said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The proposed legislation has widespread support among our national police chiefs.  Nearly 70 police chiefs sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging similar action to the Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act.  These cities include New York, Washington D.C., Buffalo, and New York’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

“Police say tens of thousands of smartphones are stolen each year.  If we can substantially reduce, or prevent, these crimes with this bill, then this legislation is worthwhile.  I urge my colleagues to sign on to the Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act.  I encourage all Congress members to co-sponsor and pass the bill before the full House, so we can properly address the issue of cell phone crime,” said Rep. Engel.

“We appreciate Congressman Engel for recognizing the importance of this issue,” said Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier. “Crimes associated with these devices are becoming increasingly more violent and this matter needs to be addressed.”

The Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act would do the following:

  • Create a national “negative file” or “blacklist” to be maintained by the wireless industry to record the individual ID number of a stolen device.  Companies would then cross-reference the files with the other carriers to ensure that no device reported stolen could get service from another provider.
  • Require wireless carriers to develop technology allowing the customer to remotely delete their data should the device be stolen.
  • Require all devices manufactured in the U.S., or imported to the U.S., to have unique ID numbers.  Most phones already do, but it is important to ensure that any duplicate ID numbers do not exist.
  • Require customers victimized by theft to provide a police report with their claim.
  • Provide the time for companies to enact the provisions of the bill so the system will be strong and functioning in a manner which does not disrupt the service to the consumer, or create any unforeseen technical issues. 

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are already signed on as original co-sponsors of the bill.