Body wants law on mobile phone unblocking

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in the Philippines is pushing for a special law to stamp out the "unblocking" of...

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in the Philippines is pushing for a special law to stamp out the "unblocking" of IMI-blocked handsets.

IMI (internal manufacturer's index) is an 11-digit security code inscribed in every mobile handset. Once activated, the code renders the mobile phone useless. For mobile phone theft victims who may never get the chance to identify, much less file charges against, their offender, "blocking" their stolen unit by activating its IMI code is their only defence.

"When we found out that cell phone repair shops are the ones carrying out this illegal ‘unblocking' activity, we decided to have these shops properly accounted," said NTC commissioner Ronald Solis. That is why, very soon, the commission will require all mobile  phone repair shop operators to register with the NTC, he added.

"Moreover, we will push to criminalise this activity by proposing to Congress a special law that will clearly classify the act as illegal," Solis said. Under existing laws, only theft or robbery (in case force has been applied) is considered an "illegal" and "criminal" act. But with NTC's proposed bill, even unblocking manufacturer-blocked handsets will be punishable by law.

"Nobody will question you if you go to a cell phone repair shop and have your IMI-blocked phone unblocked. This practice is so common, it has become acceptable," Solis said.

Although attaching a tracking device or a GPS to mobile phones may seem like a good idea, GSM Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) chairman John Lipp dismissed the move as too drastic.

"Remember, cellular phones are usually attached to or carried by a person. When you start tracking this phone's location using a satellite, you begin to compromise the cell phone owner's location, his privacy and his security," he added.

The GSA chief also pointed out that GPS technology could be inaccurate at close range. Usually, GPS readings are within a 5m radius. "If your purpose is to track down a stolen phone, you'll find it hard to pinpoint exactly where the phone is or with whom in a small room packed with other GPS-equipped handsets," he said.

Rosary Grace Sarmiento writes for Computerworld Philippines

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