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GSMA declares war on mobile phone theft

Global blacklist mooted

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Stolen phones won't work anywhere anymore, if the GSM Association (GSMA) has its way. In a bid to combat mobile phone theft, the GSMA and handset makers have outlined plans for a global blacklist of stolen phones.

The scheme is an extension of the government-backed system already in place in the UK. Once a phone is reported stolen, its unique ID - the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) - is added to a central register, and the handset is disabled.

A spokesman for the GSMA said that the security of the IMEI must be improved for the system to work globally. The IMEI defines the identity of an individual handset, and was put in place specifically so that stolen phones could be switched off. Reprogramming it should be impossible, but some handsets are still vulnerable, the GSMA said.

"Making this work requires the cooperation of the phone manufacturers", a GSMA spokesman noted.

Since the register was introduced in the UK, operators have barred 1.2 million lost or stolen handsets. According to Rob Conway, GSMA CEO, government-led action is required if phone theft is to be tackled properly. The manufacturers and operators cannot stop phone theft by themselves, he argues.

Around 20 operators have signed up to the global database so far, including the entire Vodafone group. Alcatel, Motorola, Nokia are among the manufacturers who are backing the scheme. ®

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