The government has made tampering of IMEI number — a unique 15-digit serial number of mobile devices — a punishable offence that can attract jail term of up to 3 years as it seeks to curb incidence of mobile theft. The move will help curb issues pertaining to fake IMEI numbers and also ease tracking of lost mobile phones. “It shall be unlawful, if a person, except the manufacturer –- intentionally removes, obliterates, changes, or alters unique Mobile Device Equipment Identification Number,” the Department of Telecom said in a notification dated August 25. The new rules called “the prevention of tampering of the Mobile Device Equipment Identification Number, Rules, 2017” bar a person from knowingly using mobile device whose IMEI number has been changed unlawfully or software that can change or tamper the unique number.
IMEI is a unique ID of a mobile handset. Whenever a user makes a call, the call record shows phone number of the caller and IMEI number of the handset from which the call has been made. The mobile number in a handset may be changed by changing SIM but IMEI number can be changed by a technical person using special equipment. The unique number of mobile devices is allocated by global industry body GSMA and bodies authorised by it. When a mobile phone is lost, people are required to mention the IMEI number of the handset for tracking.
The DoT had started consultation in June to frame strict laws around tampering of IMEI numbers which makes it difficult for police or any other security agency in tracking mobile phones. The DoT barred telecom operators in 2009 from providing service to any mobile phone with fake IMEI number but the operators face problem in identifying handsets with duplicate IMEI number. In one of the tracking cases of mobile phone, the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) cell of the DoT found that there were around 18,000 handsets using same IMEI number.
The rules have been framed in combination of section 7 and section 25 of the Indian Telegraph Act. The section 7 gives DoT power to make rules for conduct of telecom or telegraph services and section 25 deals with damaging of telegraph line, machines and related equipment with provision of punishments of up to 3 years of imprisonment or fine or both. Besides, the Department of Telecom is putting in place a new system that will block all services on stolen or lost mobile phones on any network even if the SIM card is removed or IMEI number of the handset is changed.