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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 15:56 GMT
Phone firms defend security record
Girls using mobile phones
Are mobile phone firms protecting users?
As new research uncovers a huge surge in mobile phone thefts, the government has called on the industry to do more to discourage the trend.

So what do the different players say about the issue?

Home Office

Minster John Denham said UK phone operators have already agreed some early measures to test ways of putting stolen phones out of action.

"A start has been made, but more needs to be done before Britain's mobile phone system can lead the world in security.

"We're also looking to handset manufacturers to show more interest in the security of the phones they are selling to British consumers."

All the pointers suggest that mobile phone thefts are driving the robbery figures upwards

John Denham
His department has spent a year trying to persuade the industry to install equipment which allows stolen handsets to be immobilised when customers pass on their 12-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, obtained by keying *#06# into most phones.

While Virgin, One 2 One and Orange offer the service BT Cellnet and Vodafone have been named as the two networks which have failed to agree the new measures.

A Home Office spokesman has said: "They are saying it is not worth their while because the next generation of phones are coming along in a couple of years and their customers are not demanding it."

Legislation could be introduced to force companies to introduce the anti-theft measures, but that would be a last resort.

BT Cellnet

A spokeswoman said: "IMEI barring does not solve the problem and is a red herring."

The method only stops calls being made on the network that barred it, the spokeswoman went on, and the handset itself is completely usable if a Sim card is put in from another network.

We are a bit surprised if they (the government) are having a go at us because we have a good relationship with them

Cellnet spokeswoman
New IMEIs can be programmed into stolen handsets and 10% of IMEIs are not unique.

"We are working with the Home Office on all aspects of security for current and future networks, " she said.

"We are a network, not a handset manufacturer. Handset manufacturers will have to be asked questions as well.


The firm has not adopted IMEI technology because it is "unreliable", a spokeswoman said, and could lead to innocent phone users being disconnected.

"Duplicate numbers are coming out of the factories now and you can have two or three handsets with the same number," she said.

"You might be blocking several other people who have done nothing wrong.

There's only so far any security measure on an electronic device will go

Vodafone spokeswoman
"In any case, there is software you can download from the internet to change IMEI numbers when a handset is stolen."

She said the government was aware of the firm's reasons for not introducing the measure.

Vodafone had told the government if it was sent all stolen IMEI numbers it could search records and hand over names and addresses of users matching the number, the spokeswoman went on.

"We thought it would perhaps lead police to someone with spurious reasons for holding the phone and would be a step in the right direction to breaking up these crime rings.

"But the government declined the offer for whatever reason."


In a statement the firm said it had been working with the government, police and other industry members towards developing practical solutions to combat individual mobile phone thefts.

It continued: "We remain committed to the government's objective to reduce this type of crime and believe that our method is the most effective currently available in the United Kingdom.

Orange offers all its customers explicit guidelines on registering their phone

Orange statement
"When an Orange phone is reported lost or stolen to us by the owner, using our Equipment Identity Register (EIR) we can immediately disable both the SIM card and the handset, thereby making the phone worthless to the thief.

"This system also applies to our pre-pay customers who are requested to register their phone before activation on our network."

Orange also offers all customers guidelines on registering their phone and practical steps on how to protect it.

Virgin Mobile

Issued a statement saying: "In order to help reduce mobile phone-related crime we are working in partnership with the Home Office, police and the rest of the mobile phone industry to improve the security of mobile phones, and to educate the public about the simple precautions they can take to reduce theft.

"We believe individual customers should be able to make informed security decisions and we encourage as many as possible to register their phones with Virgin Mobile.

"This enables us to react swiftly and freeze the account by blocking the SIM card's use by anyone else if a phone is reported stolen."

The statement added that the company could also disable handsets, making them useless to thieves, if given the IMEI number of a stolen handset.

Have you been a mobile phone theft victim?



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