back to article Millions of mobiles blocked by Indian authorities

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 …

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Silver badge

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?

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In india...

In India you have to provide a copy of your personal photgraphic ID whenever you purchase a mobile phone, so there is a way of associating the IMEI number with an individual user.

However I know from personal experience that this ID situation is pretty straight forward to bypass*

That said I still agree that this is a dubious decision by the government, much as you say, impacting the innocent private individual and simply forcing those who are up to no good to do something slightly different. Then again I'm not entirely surprised, this is from a country that has a 15 year backlog in its justice system.

*the mobile phone shop I went to had a generic fake ID and a small box of a hundered or so passport photos. They found a photo that bared a passing resemblance to the guy I was with and made a copy of that instead.

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Grenade

Name or a Number? name/registration/imei all identification

why do you need his/her name? you only need to know what they are upto!

you only need a name after an arrest.

what you need to know is where he/she/it is and who* they are talking to.

*no I dont need a name here either I just need some kind of unique Identifier (perhaps an IMEI!!)

The fight against terrorism doesn't need names but it does need to know who was where when the bomb went off and who did they call to arrange and confirm the actions..

then the smart bombs can home in on a specific ID signal and boom! Dont need a name for that!

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Coat

How do calls get routed to handsets without an IMEI?

I thought this was needed to route calls to the handset? Or is it just the number/SIM combo that facilitates this? If it's just the number then what's the point of the IMEI then (if it can be faked/duped)?

Getting coat ready...

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Boffin

IMEI / IMSI

I believe it's the IMSI that is used to uniquely identify the SIM to the network, not the IMEI. I'm not sure the IMEI gets used for much other than blacklisting stolen handsets.

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Gold badge

I was pretty shocked by this...

I was pretty shocked when I read about this yesterday. Not the Indian govt's actions, but well.. with AMPS (analog), TDMA, and with the current CDMA system here in the US, the ESN (and on newer phones the MEID, which is an IMEI starting with 0xA0 or higher...) is the ONLY thing identifying the caller. I.e., one could clone a second phone with the same ESN and get free service, and back in the 80s this was apparently a big problem. Besides anticloning features this also permits blacklisting stolen phones from the networks.

It simply hadn't occured to me that GSM networks could operate without any kind of phone identification (although, since the identity is based on SIM card this is in fact logical.)

The dark side of this, the whole "oh, you can just pop your SIM card into whatever you want" goes right out the window, normal phones, smart phones, blackberry, and iphone have different data plans and for the last year or two AT&T for instance enforces it, they'll switch your data plan depending on what you stick the SIM in.

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Coat

watch V

or 'they live' by John Carpenter. The aliens have been here for years destabilising the world. We are so fsck'd. It's either that or ruthless greed has turned mankind into a monstrous aberration.

Or, as Terry Pratchet wrote, 'At first there was nothing, then it exploded.'

We are all made of star stuff.

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WTF?

Phantom terrorists again!

Oh here we go again, somebody think of the terrorists!

Balls!

More likely to get run over outside in the street, at the front of your house. I bet if you check, I can imagine you're more likely to die falling over in your bath, than being caught in a terrorist atrocity!

Nope, just another scheme for governments to track it's citizens, by dint of anyone not having a valid ID is automatically a ne'er-do-well!

So the only ones to lose out are the low income people who simply want to be able to communicate with friends and family. Governments bleating on about technology for all, yeah, for all those that can afford it only!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Phantom Terrorists Again

It might not be for governments to track citizens, it could just be that the government wants to stop cheap imports to increase its own national industry (or maybe as part of some sort of trade agreement). The "what if" scenarios are a useful way to prevent cheap imports without running foul of international trade agreements. I seem to remember something about Huawei kit (routers maybe) with the "what if" scenario of China building in back doors so they could take over our networks in the future.

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Happy

Sounds reasonable

I'm quite surprised this is not the case anyway. I'm guessing it is here in the UK (for your American readers, that's near London).

In anticipation of lots of comments about privacy etc, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect yourself to be identified when you phone someone. It's common manners. And as has already been pointed out, the IMEI only identifies the phone and not necessarily the user, especially if you're on a pay-as-you-go thingie.

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Anonymous Coward

8 million GPS location requests

Yes I think its unreasonable to identify yourself just to communicate through a phone. Anonymous speech is the cornerstone of privacy, as you yourself Mr Anonymous Coward must know.

Plus just look at what's happening in the US.

http://paranoia.dubfire.net/2009/12/8-million-reasons-for-real-surveillance.html

This is the 8 million GPS phone triangulation requests a year for just 50 million customers.

Basically they removed judicial checks to get the GPS location of a phone, they implemented a web portal to query for it, and the rozzers (and no doubt lots of spooks, H&S and so on) have run 8 million requests in one year for the GPS location of people in the US.

Imagine that, anonymous speech is dead in the USA, better be careful what you say and where you say it.

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Anonymous Coward

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.

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No, this is no protection against terrorism

These people, and all governments wanting to waste time and money on this nonsense, really need to read this Australian government paper from 2006 :

http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib100696/apf.pdf

Puts the lie to this waffle.

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Stop

Potential Security Threats?

"India's government claims these untraceable phones are a potential security threat when in the hands of unsavory individuals." etc

I see you beat me to the same point, adnim.

I am sick of this bogeyman approach (Watch out! Terrorists!) to keeping stupid citizens in check.

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And

What about second hand phones, or even further down the line, 3rd, 4th and 5th handed. Ok, you may think that unlikely, however from experience, I can say that in all probability, many phones in use in India will be such. How will the IMEI help identify the owners of such phones, especially on PAYG tariffs.

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Gold badge
WTF?

Phones with blank IMEI numbers?

I did not think the GSM protocol worked without *all* phones issuing an IMEI number as part of the call set up. As I understood things it was the way *all* mobile phones could be uniquely identified on *any* network.

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Give it a week and they will all be back online

The sort of phone shop that sells no name chinese import phones will be the same sort of shop that is well equipped for removing handset locks.

I fairly sure they are at this moment downloading the software to reset/unlock/upgrade and change the IMEI of the most common chinese phones as you read this.

Im sure for a small fee they will change the imei to some random nokia one if you ask nicely, then its all sorted.

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Happy

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.

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Didn't Spain

do something similar last month?

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Anonymous Coward

Spain, IMEIs

Mobile numbers are being turned off where the associated SIM has not been authenticated to a person using an ID card or similar means of identification.

The IMEI can be blank => all zeroes - or any number of your choosing. For many phones, this can be changed with readily available software and a USB cable.

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Grenade

It's still easy to bypass

When I took my latest cell in for a SIM, my IMEI came up as invalid. The guy tried a 2nd time, then just entered in all 0's ending in a 1. And I know the SIM works in my other cell without a problem (exact same model).

So not only does using cash for pay as you go mess with the system, you don't even have to enter the IMEI for the phone (just can't leave it blank or null).

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Thumb Up

A good step

Well done India :) A good step in the right direction

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