Friday 7 September 2012

18,000 phones with same IMEI number: Sibal

The Parliament was informed today that as many as 18,000 mobile phones were found to have the same IMEI number. These findings have uncovered the grave issue of IMEI cloning in our country a little more. Of late, instances of IMEI cloning have been on the rise. Although cloning of IMEI numbers is not commonplace yet in the case of CDMA handsets, instances of cloning in the case of GSM handsets are aplenty. Mobile handsets with cloned IMEI numbers cannot be tracked, making them a deterrent to national security.

In a reply to the Rajya Sabha, Union Minister Kapil Sibal wrote, "Two cases have come to notice wherein same IMEIs has been used in more than 18,000 cell phones." Sibal went on to add that it was tricky to differentiate between original and duplicate handsets with the same IMEI number. He added, "Department of Telecommunications is examining the issue to find out possible solutions to resolve the issue of illegal IMEI and use of same IMEI in different cell phones."

An IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number is a unique 15-digit code that is assigned to a handset, and is unique to GSM, WCDMA and iDEN mobile phones as well as some satellite phones. To view the IMEI number of a handset, dial *#06#. It works on most keypads. The IMEI number is flashes on the operator's network when a call is made and allows authorities to track user. Understandably, with IMEI cloning, security and law enforcement agencies will find it tough to know who the actual user is.

Even as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is working towards curbing the menace of fake IMEI numbers in the country, an incident of IMEI tampering came to light, recently. Reports went on to confirm that the Patna police have arrested six persons for changing the IMEI numbers of cell phones and SIM cards without the phone owner's permission. They then used them on stolen phones to commit crime.

Recent reports had affirmed that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was reportedly planning to approach the Commerce and Industry Ministry pertaining to the issue of banning the import of phones with fake IMEI numbers.

Previous instances of terrorist attacks in the country had led the government to ban services on mobile handsets with fake IMEI numbers after November 30, 2009. However, in a test that was conducted in a telecom service area, government officials found over 18,000 handsets using the same IMEI number, much to their horror. In a report that came in the October of 2009, Indian Cellular Association (ICA) President, Pankaj Mohindroo had said that although there aren't any official statistics on the number of handsets without IMEI number, an industry guess was around 25 million.

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