Millions of mobiles blocked by Indian authorities
No ID, no call
India has blocked service to an estimated 25 million mobile phones lacking valid identity codes over concerns criminal or militant groups could use them to organize attacks.
Mobile phones with a blank or all-zero International Mobile Identity (IMEI) code went dead at midnight Tuesday as a result of a government security directive that became law in October 2008.
The 15-digit IMEI number can be used to identify a handset on an operators network, allowing individual calls to be traced to the phone it came from. Phones without a valid IMEI are usually inexpensive, unbranded handsets manufactured in China.
According to the Times of India, Chinese-made handsets account for about 13.3 per cent of the country's total mobile market.
India's government claims these untraceable phones are a potential security threat when in the hands of unsavory individuals. The Indian Cellular Association urged compliance with the rules:
"Terrorists and dangerous elements may have taken cover under the illegal and fictitious IMIE mobile phones, which could have been used to trigger a series of criminal activities," the trade organization wrote in an October newsletter.
"As a part of the great mobile trade and industry, we believe that by disallowing the existence of illegal IMEI numbers in our telecom ecosystem we can play a greater role to strengthen our nation's security requirements," it continued.
The government has allowed operators to provide a new unique ID number to phones that don't comply with the new regulation. ®
Shoots wide of the goal
"India's government claims these untraceable phones are a potential security threat when in the hands of unsavory individuals." As are hammers, knives, wire cutters, bent law enforcement officers, computers, greedy bankers and politicians and so, so many other things.
This change will allow calls to no longer be anonymous, to be traced to a phone and associated with other calls, it does nothing to identify the owner of the phone. I imagine people buy these phones because they are cheap, so they move to a cheap pay as you go system (presuming such exists in India). Those that buy these phones for "unsavoury" purposes will find an alternative, hack the IMEI (is this even possible?) or just buy pay as you go for cash and still remain anonymous. Even though the phone itself can be associated with calls and the shop it was purchased from, it still cannot be associated with a person or valid name and address. So those that can only afford this kind of cheap Chinese import will suffer, whilst any "unsavoury" character will use a more expensive alternative.
Seems that this is another situation where the innocent pay the price whilst the criminals/terrorists just change M.O. It's a familiar scenario, has the Indian government been taking tips from the UK government?
Pressure from the GSMA/3GPP?
Maybe the Indian government had a little chat with the IP-holders for GSM technology, that have almost certainly not been paid for the chips in the phones? If the manufacturers were members of GSMA, they'd be able to get real IMEIs allocated.
Re: Sounds Reasonable
I don't think this is actually the case in the UK. I think that some networks might block on invalid IMEI, but it is not a government policy or anything.
I seem to remember that for some chinese dual sim phones, the second sim only works on some networks because the phone part for the second sim does not have a valid IMEI and some of the networks will not let it connect. That suggests that there is no national policy on this, but some networks require it.