- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

LONDON British officials are hoping cell phone theft, one of the nation's most widespread crimes, can be reduced dramatically by a new database that disables phones when they get into the wrong hands.
Much like canceling a credit card, owners can make their phones worthless by reporting the crime to their network operator.
The shared database set up by all British cell phone operators and the Global System for Mobiles Association means stolen handsets can be barred on all networks, by reference to the phone's identifying code.
"Our strategy aims to design out crime from mobiles to reduce their value to criminals," said initiative partner John Denham, Home Office minister for crime reduction and policing.
Jack Wraith, speaking for the nation's cell networks, said, "This industry will not condone criminal activity."
The announcement of the database follows the enactment last month of the Mobile Telephones (Reprogramming) Act, with penalties of up to five years in prison for those caught reprogramming the code on cell phones.
Cell phones are wildly popular in Britain, owned by about 40 million residents. However, the trend has fueled a black market, with higher-end handsets resold for hundreds of dollars.
According to the British Broadcasting Corp., nearly a million phones are stolen each year, accounting for about one in four thefts. Youths are usually blamed for the thefts, many of them street muggings targeting other youths.
Sometimes the desire for phones turns violent. Earlier this year, a teenage girl was shot in the head in London during a cell phone theft, and a 12-year-old girl was stabbed in a similar case.
"A third of all street crimes in London involve the theft of a mobile telephone alone," said Tim Godwin, acting assistant commissioner of the city's Metropolitan Police. "By making this of no value to a thief, we believe, will reduce the number of victims of this despicable crime."
The anti-theft measures developed by the government, cell phone industry and police are attracting attention in neighboring nations, and discussions are to be held about expanding the measures across the European Union.

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