The Home Office has revealed that 700,000 mobile handsets were stolen last year in the UK. Theft of mobile handsets has been identified as a major contributor to the high level of street crime. Government ministers believe that it is the operators’ duty to protect their customers by providing the technology to immobilise phones if they have been reported stolen.
The technology exists to identify individual stolen handsets using their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, and permanently cut them off. At present, One2One, Orange and Virgin use this. According to the Home Office, Vodafone and mmO2’s BT Cellnet unit have actively refused to put this simple technology in place, despite government pressure.
BT Cellnet and Vodafone have refused the governments’ proposals on the grounds that it was not cost effective, as third-generation phones will be replacing current handsets sometime in the near future. They also believe there is no customer demand for such a service.
Ministers have been considering introducing legislation to force the unwilling operators to introduce the IMEI-based technology. However, Vodafone retorted that the IMEI system is unreliable anyway as more than one phone often has the same number. BT Cellnet has said that it believes protection is the responsibility of the handset manufacturer.