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IMEI No.: Govt plans crackdown
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National security and consumer interests are being compromised with the government discovering extremely poor compliance from telecom service providers over shutting down service to all handsets without a genuine International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. The government is preparing to initiate strict action against all violators.

The Department of Telecom's (DoT) study of the compliance data reveals that every fifth call of certain operators, comes from a handset without an IMEI number, which is a high level of non-compliance. This is despite law enforcement agencies cracking down on service providers over this issue since 2008.

"In June, an Equipment ID Register (EIR) was set up. The EIR ensures that calls from invalid IMEI numbers do not pass through. The non-compliance level suggests that operators are disabling the EIR to allow these calls, which is quite a grave violation," a senior DoT official told ToI.

According to a DoT note, almost every service provider has been found guilty of non-compliance, demonstrating how lightly the telecom industry treats matters of national security and proving allegations of non-cooperation on security matters to be true. Even subscriber verification norms are routinely bypassed by telcos even in sensitive border areas despite checks and penalties imposed on companies.

India has over 650 million mobile subscribers and there are no available estimates of how many of these do not have genuine IMEI numbers on their handsets. A year ago, when the subscriber base was 500 million, GSM association COAI had estimated that 17 to 18 million of these did not have an IMEI number.

Law enforcement agencies find it difficult to intercept targets that do not have a legitimate IMEI. Accordingly, in November 2009, all service providers were instructed by the DoT not to process or to reject all calls from mobile handsets that are not available in the latest updated IMEI database of the GSM Association with effect from November 30, 2009. Telcos were also asked to submit their compliance on this matter by December 15, 2009.

"The unsatisfactory compliance is the non-implementation of the instruction of Department in proper way which has implications on working of law enforcement agencies," the DoT note says.

When contacted, COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India) director general Rajan Mathews told ToI, "Instead of disenfranchising legitimate consumers, the COAI had initiated an exercise to implant legitimate IMEI numbers on the handsets. This exercise was completed, however, the problem could be arising from the fresh influx of Chinese handsets into the country".

According to Mathews, grey market retailers implant genuine IMEI numbers on handsets which do not have a IMEI number, which means multiple handsets could have the same IMEI number.
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