Mobile phones help to improve personal safety by providing users with a lifeline to assistance when in trouble. But there has been an accompanying trend of mobile phone theft that particularly affects youngsters and the vulnerable.
The UK Government is especially concerned with the rising level of street crime and wants mobile operators to play a greater role in combating it. O2 is a funding member of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum (MICAF).
The Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum supports Immobilise - an initiative set up to encourage the public to add their details to the National Mobile Phone Register by logging on to www.immobilise.com. Launched in 2005, this register allows police to identify the original owner of recovered phones. The details of 14 million phones have already been registered in the UK.
Since O2 and other operators began handset blacklisting, over two million handsets have been disabled on the UK networks.
O2 UK and many other operators use Equipment Identity Registers to hold blacklists of handsets that have been reported lost or stolen. Reporting a stolen phone will alert customer services to bar the SIM card, and blacklist the handset. This will normally make the handset useless on O2’s network within 24 hours.
All UK operators exchange blacklists overnight, to ensure that a stolen handset will not be able to make a call on any UK network.
Due to the publicity about handset thefts, most of our customers are quick to report a lost phone to us. However, about one in five handsets are later found by their owners, and O2 has a robust system to confirm ownership of the handset and remove it from the blacklists.
During the year we continued to talk to the UK Government and the police about further measures. Some would like us to improve our systems so that phone barring can be achieved more quickly. Limitations within the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) make this technically impractical. However, the systems O2 uses ensure that every active handset is checked against our blacklist at least once a day.
Equivalent phone-barring systems operate in Ireland. In Germany we bar SIM cards if a phone is stolen.
In the UK there have been calls to register all new 3G mobile phone users by recording names, addresses and details at the point of purchase nationally. We believe this raises issues of privacy and data protection. Not all our customers would be comfortable registering their phones to a national database and this could prove a barrier to social inclusion.
We have also expressed our reservations about proposals to introduce a national 3G handset registration scheme in Ireland.
In Germany, we launched security information on our website in 2006 to inform our customers of ways to protect themselves against threats such as handset theft, fraudulent use, or attacks from viruses or unprotected Bluetooth links.
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