Sunday, November 05, 2006

Global Initiative to Crackdown on Stolen Mobile Telephones

Global Initiative to Crackdown on Stolen Mobile Telephones

The escalation in mobile phone thefts in 2000 and 2001 brought a major crackdown in the UK. The thefts from the most vulnerable in our society, generated massive media publicity and lead to several UK initiatives. Firstly, legislation was enacted under the Mobile Telephon (Reprogramming) Act 2002, this was stop the stolen handset serial number (IMEI) being altered so as to avoid detection as stolen mobile telephone when connected to any of the UK mobile phone networks. Secondly, mobile telephones registered as stolen were blocked from using the network. The impact of the crackdown lead to detection of reportedly 30,000 mobile telephones having the same serial number and over half-million mobile phones being blocked. This success has been achieved by the lawful requirement for UK mobile network operators to share their databases of mobile telephones using each other networks, improving network operators network surveillance and squeezing out black listed mobile telephones.

There is still more to do though as it is believed there are some 130 million mobile telephone handsets in circulation in the UK, arising from ten years of success of the GSM (Global System for Mobile) communication. It is thought that there are still tens of thousands of mobiles that have not been reported by their owners as lost or stolen. On the face of the UK successful reducing theft and cloning it looks like the UK initiative appears to be having global appeal.

Cloning of mobile telephone serial numbers (IMEI) is not unlawful in many other countries and the practice of cloning continues unabated. Many of those mobile phones find there way back into the UK, through natural routes suggest as users roaming in the UK through to the more nefarious grey market trade and used by organised crime. Other countries unaffected by UK legislation have no requirement to share their databases. Attempting to block roaming cloned mobiles in the UK may be largely ineffective.

Now, however several of the world’s largest wireless operators have launched an global initiative aimed at cracking down on mobile phone theft by organised criminal gangs. The new plan will render a handset stolen in one country useless in another, thus stemming the flow of stolen handsets into Africa, Asia and Europe. The GSM Association is leading the initiative, which is proposing the use of an international register of IMEI (serial) numbers that will be accessible by all GSM operators. To further strengthen the validity of an IMEI being genuine and unique to a particular device, Nokia, NEC and SonyEricsson and other manufacturers are working towards the early introduction of new technology that will make it almost impossible for the unauthorised reprogramming of wireless phones. This scheme should further underpin the initiative by the GSM Association.

In reality, of course, until this international register is fully operational and detecting registered stolen or lost phones it is foreseen cloned mobile phones will be in circulation for some years yet. That forecast is based upon the huge and undeniable success of GSM globally and the hundreds of millions of GSM mobiles in circulation worldwide.

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