Senator Chuck Schumer to AT&T: Invite Us to Your Industry Meeting, Please


Appealing to his iPhone-addicted constituents, Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling on AT&T to do something about the steep uptick in smartphone thefts in the city. You might be thinking: “What can this little ole cell phone provider do to fight crime in Gotham?” Well, our senator thinks the company can do quite a bit — starting with an invitation. We want in!

A week from today, AT&T will participate in a meeting of the (deep breath, it’s a mouthful), Global System for Mobile Communications Association’s North America Committee on Security and Fraud. Schumer says the company needs to bring the NYPD to the table to discuss the rapidly rising rate of smart phone thefts in the city. But wait, he’s more than just an elected who wants some dialogue — he’s a tech guy, too!

In a letter that he sent out to AT&T yesterday, he also urges the company to consider adopting technology that permanently disables phones after they’ve been stolen.

Before we explain how this technology works, let’s review some of the stats that should encourage you to hold your iPhone just a teensy bit tighter on the subway.

Almost half of all property thefts in the city are related to cell phones, Schumer says in a press release. Half of the nearly 16,000 robberies in New York over the first ten months of 2011 involved technological gadgets — most of which were cell phones — he says, citing a recent study. And 70% of the cell phones stolen on subways and buses this year were iPhones.

In other words (or, you know, in Schumer’s words), it’s an “epidemic.”

Schumer argues that the robberies are fueled by the fact that stolen phones are easily resold on the black market — and mainly because they use SIM card technology. If carriers implement technology that permanently disables stolen cell phones, this might make a big difference, he says.

When a phone is stolen, the SIM card can be deactivated once it’s reported, but the thief can just replace it and resell the phone, making it an attractive grab for criminals. He recommends that AT&T adopt a technology that deactivates stolen phones based on a unique number called an International Mobile Equipment Identity. These numbers are specific to the device and cannot be replicated. Basically, it would make the phone less valuable, which he thinks would discourage thieves.

Schumer, who spoke out about this back in August, notes that the UK uses the identity program, as does Verizon in the U.S. (Can you hear him now, AT&T?).

Runnin’ Scared has reached out to AT&T and we’ll update this post if we hear back.

See full text of his letter here:

Randall L. Stephenson
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President
208 South Akard Street
Dallas, TX 75202

Timothy P. McKone
Executive Vice President, Federal Relations
1133 21st St., NW
Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mssrs. Stephenson and McKone:

I write today to follow up on our previous communication regarding the rampant theft of wireless devices. I understand that AT&T currently serves as the chair of the GSM Association’s North America Committee on Security and Fraud, and that your committee will be meeting shortly. Therefore, I am requesting that you invite representatives of the NYPD to meet with you and other GSM carriers at your January 23rd meeting, and that you consult in some detail with them and other members of law enforcement to arrive at a cost-effective and safe solution to this rampant problem, such as the system that is in place in the United Kingdom.

A recent NYPD study found that half of the nearly 16,000 robberies in New York over the first 10 months of 2011 involved technological gadgets, most of which were cell phones. 70% of the cell phones stolen on subways and buses this year, according to the NYPD, were iPhones. I, and they, remain interested in exploring the implementation of the system that is used in the United Kingdom, in which GSM carriers are able to share information about the serial (or other corresponding numbers) of handsets in order to disable them. Without this system, or something similar, the following consequences result:

(1) There is virtually no deterrence to stealing GSM-network handsets, because it is easy either to replace to SIM card or to unlock the device on a different GSM carrier’s network;

(2) These preventable thefts expend valuable Police Department resources, both because they are so frequent and because each theft must be investigated via a subpoena or a search warrant.

In short, the ability simply to shut down each handset once it is stolen will protect the original purchaser’s privacy, conserve police resources, and deter crime–crime that can and does lead to personal injury.

I am happy to facilitate your meeting with the NYPD in any way that would be helpful to you and the department.


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer