Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Communications Government Your Rights Online

India Hanging Up On 25 Million Cell Phones 103

jvillain writes "India is about to pull the plug on 25 million cell phones in the name of fighting terrorism and fraud. 'The ban by India's Department of Telecommunications has been unfolding gradually since Oct. 6, 2008, six weeks before the attacks in Mumbai killed 173 people and wounded 308. A memo then directed service providers to cut off cellphone users whose devices didn't have a real IMEI — or unique identity number — in the interests of 'national security.' Since then, the move has picked up steam as a way to circumvent terrorists using black market, unregistered cellphones. The Mumbai attackers kept in touch with each other via cellphones and used GPS to pinpoint their attacks, which started Nov. 26, 2008, and went on for three days. The telecommunications department has issued warnings and deadlines through 2009 but has announced this one is for real, telling operators to block cellphones without valid IMEI numbers. Previously, it warned companies to stop importing them and customers to stop buying them.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

India Hanging Up On 25 Million Cell Phones

Comments Filter:
  • Cloned phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:16PM (#30276760)
    So, does this just mean that if you want to have an untrackable phone in India, instead of buying a phone without a plan you can just go out and buy a cloned phone instead? I mean, seems to me the only thing better than not being tracked by the government for a criminal/terrorist is to have the government waste time tracking some poor innocent schlub they think is you.
    • Re:Cloned phones (Score:4, Informative)

      by Abreu ( 173023 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:45PM (#30277158)

      We are going through something similar in Mexico, where the Federal Goverment wants everyone to register their phone and tie it to their "Universal ID number"

      This started early this year, and supposedly unregistered phones will stop working sometime in the first quarter of 2010, however I fail to see how this is in the best interests of phone companies, who gladly sell airtime cards and sim chips to anyone who asks...

      I for one, plan on resisting this as long as I can

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by moose_hp ( 179683 )
        And that's why I'm going to try to put someone else CURP (since supposedly you can send the info via text message without any other confirmation with Telcel)... Felipe Calderon's CURP is pretty easy to calculate with using his wikipedia entry, but other not-so-known PAN politicians would work.

        If I stop posting on slashdot, that means the PGR got me.
        • by VGVL ( 1557555 )

          You don't have to calculate Felipe Calderon's CURP, just look it up on

          Here it is: CAHF620818HMNLNL09

      • This would mean that tourists couldn't use their cell phones while in Mexico. Given the huge contribution of the tourist dollar to the Mexican economy, that is extremely unlikely to happen.

        In general a prepaid cell phone from one country (e.g. USA) could be used in another country (e.g. India) to circumvent any such registration requirements.
      • In Spain (Score:3, Informative)

        by srussia ( 884021 )
        They're cutting off service to people using pre-paid cards if they do not identify themselves. Link in Spanish: Los clientes de móvil de prepago tendrán seis meses más para identificarse []
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      Well instead of being one anonymous user amongst 25 millions, that makes you one user amongst 2 cell phones which have the same number. I think this makes being anonymous a tad bit harder.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fearlezz ( 594718 )

      It will probably mean that before setting off bombs, 'terrorists' will first smash the head of an old, helpless person to get a phone.

  • So they will just rent satellite phones for like $10 a day under a false name and stolen CC.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well they can. But it would not be possible for them to provide these satellite phones for all the people in and out of India to communicate with each other.

      With these China made phones without an IMEI, terrorists have their jobs made easy for them. Besides it is not easy to rent satellite phones in India.

    • by mirix ( 1649853 )
      Do they make sat phones that don't look suspicious?

      I always picture them as suitcase sized things only available in olive drab.
    • Re:Sat Phones (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zill ( 1690130 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:58PM (#30277308)
      But in order to do that, they first need to buy a fake ID and steal a CC. This forces them to commit two extra acts of crime to meet their objective. These two extra crimes will result in more eye witnesses, more tracable cash flows, and higher chance of them getting caught by a security camera. The longer the trail they leave behind, the easier they are to trace.
      • Re:Sat Phones (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @09:36PM (#30278180)
        And look at how great that has worked out with real crime (robbery, murder, etc) when you do the same thing with another medium (guns). The "two extra crimes" thing is unimportant, do you realize how trivially easy it is for someone to steal an identity? Yeah, ok, if you spend $30,000 they are going to notice, but lets say a $100 extra charge at Wal-Mart? They won't know. As for fake IDs, they don't need to be foolproof to fool a store clerk. About the only place where IDs get checked throughput is at a traffic stop, at the airport (or at least security theater makes it look like they are) and if you are buying alcohol.
    • Instead the initial attack will likely be local wifi's set up to relay their signals. It is trivial to rig and will take longer than an hour or two for Indian police to figure out what is going on and to get them. Then it will be via different cell phones after a pre-determined length of time. Basically, communication is VERY easy to establish and difficult to stop.
    • They actually did use satellite phones. []

      Sigh, another case of the authorities grabbing more power and trying to make sure every packet on the internet has a traceable owner
    • Terrorists don't always like sat phones. Makes it easier for the NSA, and they may have been used in the past to actually target attacks on people using them.

      Cellphones in a densely-populated area make more sense. It's easier to hide in the noise.

  • RE: Sat Phones (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tommyatomic ( 924744 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:24PM (#30276876)

    Yes but there is already infrastructure in place to combat CC fraud. Granted in India its not a good or reliable system but its a system none the less. And sat phones can be tracked whereas IMEI-less cell phones are not especially trackable.

    Basically they are just forcing all their cellular networks to refuse connection to phones lacking IMEI numbers. This is hardly an international crisis. It just means that people are going to have to pay for their phone calls or pay to call in their bomb threats. No more free rides.

    • Re: Sat Phones (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:02PM (#30277358) Journal

      Basically they are just forcing all their cellular networks to refuse connection to phones lacking IMEI numbers. ... It just means that people are going to have to pay for their phone calls or pay to call in their bomb threats. No more free rides.

      It's not a free ride now. It just means that the subscriber (or his phone company) bought a cheap phone that didn't have a registered IMEI. (Think "phone universal serial number, sniffable from the phone network.)

      Now maybe it was a stolen phone with the IMEI overwritten by a dummy. Or maybe it was a legit recycled phone with reflashed firmware that killed the IMEI ditto. Or maybe it was a new phone from a cheapscate company that didn't register/buy a block of IMEIs and install them in its products. But the customer is still buying the service and still identified by his "smart chip".

      The IMEI is mainly about tracking the phone and has nothing to do with billing. (For instance: During Iraq War II the NSA mapped out the "terrorist networks" - pun intended - easily, from satellite surveillance, by traffic analysis - when somebody serving as a communications hub switched smartcards for each of his links but didn't realize that the IMEI, which stays with the phone, was also being recorded. Call goes in one smartcard ID and immediately a series to other phone numbers go out on other smartcards from the same phone: it's a gotcha. This hit the media after the opposition figured out that cellphones were a trap and switched to non-cellphone communication.)

      Given that killing service to IMEI-less phones is part of a reaction to "terrorist attacks" it looks like India is willing to kill phone service to 25 million legit cellphone users in order to force its own opposition to chose between lower-tech communication and getting caught.

  • Yeah, great idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Michael Hunt ( 585391 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:24PM (#30276880) Homepage

    IMEIs are not used at all in the call routing process, and are, ultimately, pretty easy to forge convincingly. Granted, this will stop everybody whose handsets have totally bogus IMEIs, but as long as the first 8 digits (type allocation code) and check digit are correct, then there's very little India can do without impacting legitimate customers.

    GREAT idea.

    • Re:Yeah, great idea (Score:4, Interesting)

      by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:33PM (#30277002)
      but even if it doesn't stop terrorism, turning off invalid phones seems to be something that any smart business should be doing, no?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Depends on why. I am led to believe that this has more to do with cell phone sales and import duties than anything else.

      • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:58PM (#30277312)

        The fact that they haven't done it yet sort of implies that they are making money providing them service.

      • Re:Yeah, great idea (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @09:40PM (#30278196)
        Its my phone, whether I bought the cheap Nokla phone from China, the iPhone knock-off from some guy in Russia, or any other phone, I should be able to use it if I pay for my service.

        Whats next? My ISP deciding not to allow me to connect to the internet because I'm using a different OS and network card?
        • Your ISP will stop you from using a network card that doesn't follow the Ethernet protocol. If your device gives 00:00:00:00:00:00:00 as its MAC address, your ISP can reject all your packets. Now, of course, you can fake any MAC address. But the point is that your device must supply *some* MAC address, even if it is fake.

          • The difference is, as you said, its easy for a typical user to work around this (buy a router, change the MAC, get a new network card, etc) at most that is a $10 extra investment. Changing phones though is quite expensive (Even more so if you go through all the carrier crap).
    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:36PM (#30277034)
      So, what you're saying is that this will stop the cheap phone manufactures from using an obviously bogus IMEI, and instead they will just put the same copy of a known good IMEI in every phone? Seriously, does this do anything at all to ensure that the IMEI is unique? 'Cause you know, having 100,000 customers with the same "non-bogus" IMEI isn't exactly traceable either.
      • Re:Yeah, great idea (Score:5, Informative)

        by zill ( 1690130 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:07PM (#30277406)
        A "bogus IMEI" is defined as any IMEI found in the CEIR. []

        Anytime an operator finds duplicate IMEI numbers on their network, they immediately ban that number and report the offending number to the CEIR, which in turn ensure the offending IMEI number is banned across the world.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by citizenr ( 871508 )

          they immediately ban that number and report the offending number to the CEIR, which in turn ensure the offending IMEI number is banned across the world.

          Living in fantasy world, are we? Getting an IMEI block on your stolen phone in Poland is impossible, even with Police report, even when you got friends in Police.
          Its NOT across the world, its not across the continent, its not even across one country. At best is provider wide.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jonwil ( 467024 )

            It depends on the country.
            Here in Australia you can report IMEI to your phone carrier and it will be blocked nationwide on all carriers.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by cyssero ( 1554429 )
          This already happens in Australia - not just banning 'bogus' IMEI's, but IMEI's that aren't unique like the plethora of generic Chinese import phones. Since only "A-Tick" approved phones are allowed on our networks anyway (unless you're a tourist), people who get banned have little to stand on.
      • Re:Yeah, great idea (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Scorpions4Ever ( 704686 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:11PM (#30277464)
        This happened in Pakistan, where a Chinese manufacturer used the same IMEI number on thousands of cell phones of a particularly cheap model (The model was cloned from a Nokia phone and cloned its IMEI # as well). One day in July 2008, one customer had his cellphone stolen and reported it to Pakistan Telcom Authority, who promptly banned that device using its IMEI number. Result: Mayhem for other owners who owned the same model of phone, as they were all banned at the same time. There were unhappy customers storming dozens of mobile phone stores and sales of Chinese-made phones came to a complete stop for a few days. An archive of the mayhem that ensued is still saved here: []
  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:33PM (#30276998) Journal

    There's an App for that.

  • Next (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:35PM (#30277024) Homepage Journal

    MAC addresses for wifi radios on laptops and phones.

  • Wouldn't it be a better idea to do the disconnection BEFORE letting everyone know what you are going to do? C'mon people.

  • Am I the only one here with a valid IMEI number, or is /. broken again?

  • Same in Mexico (Score:5, Informative)

    by happyfeet2000 ( 1208074 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:49PM (#30277198)

    We have until April 10th 2010 to register all our cellphones with the CURP (something like your SS number) of the person using it, even if a company cel. []. Cel numbers not registered by that date will be blocked.

    In a country where bank customer databases have been sold to the organized crime to pick kidnap victims, many times with participation of corrupt government or police officers, where we train our kids and families to never answer the phone with a family name for fear of being monitored by criminals this is giving everybody the creeps. Also next year, in a multimillon dollar deal, a company will be picked to create a national identification card with biometric data like retinal scans.

    Again, in a country where politicians are regarded as little more than a group of high level thieves this is raising lots of eyebrows.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Renraku ( 518261 )

      Well, if you don't like it, you're free to move to a different country. Some of those US companies that are moving to Mexico are starting to realize that it's a common thing for a group of thieves to steal several cars a day right out of a well-lit and highly visible parking lot, while the police tell them, "Yep, that's life. Get used to it."

      • Ah yes, the old "you are free to move to a different country argument".

        That hasn't been true since pre-WW1 and the invention of passports. These days we have things like "visas" and "immigration laws". And with very few exceptions, most countries do not just let anyone come in and permanently resettle without a valid reason (family, job, immigration quota-filling etc.)

    • Again, in a country where politicians are regarded as little more than a group of high level thieves

      Just like any other country in the world...

  • Geez if the idea is to fight terrorism and fraud by raising the costs of distance communication why not just raise the costs of communication altogether and outlaw people talking to each other in general.
    • Re:Ban speech (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:07PM (#30277404) Journal

      Good sarcasm, Ohnoitsavram. But you've pegged it - the big ugly monster rearing its head here is the fact that governments do not, as a rule, treat truly free speech as necessarily being in their own best interests. Governments have been fighting with their governed populace over this bone for many, many years. Anytime some new way to communicate pops up, the battle starts up again.

      Mind you, it can be a very real threat to an established government, and governments have fallen from it. Think "Samizdat".

      It's also harder to govern when your message to the public is diluted by discussion before it's embedded in the public consciousness, and I'm sure this concept is not lost on those who walk the halls of power.

  • Yet another excuse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:55PM (#30277276) Homepage Journal

    To clamp down on private citizens' right to privacy. ( and i don't care if its not written in stone for them, its a basic human right as far as i'm concerned )

    The 'criminals' will just get around this road block too, they always do, and the legislators know this.

    • by ascari ( 1400977 )
      So true. Makes you wonder why they're **really** doing it. Maybe there's some taxation stuff hidden somewhere in there?
    • by MarkvW ( 1037596 )

      Your "right" is the right of a fat and happy citizen of a Western country to pompously pronounce on the "rights" of citizens in countries with completely foreign cultures--in completely different social and political environments.

      Your universal statements regarding the basic right to an anonymous cell phone carries no persuasive force WHATSOEVER unless you accompany those statements with reasoning that applies them to the Indian social and political context. Otherwise, you're just another well-meaning igno

      • Your "right" is the right of a fat and happy citizen of a Western country to pompously pronounce on the "rights" of citizens in countries with completely foreign cultures--in completely different social and political environments.

        Human rights are called such because they don't depend on the cultural context, they merely depend on the recipient being a human being. Are you arguing that Indians are subhumans incapable of dealing with free speech?

        Your universal statements regarding the basic right to an anony

        • by MarkvW ( 1037596 )

          Free speech can never be absolute. "Fighting words" is a perfectly good example of a valid free speech limitation that much of Western society accepts. In Germany, Nazi advocacy is limited. In some European countries, religious hate speech is limited. When martial law is imposed (after a riot or a terrorist attack, for example), free speech is drastically limited.

          ABSOLUTE free speech is something that most reasonable people do not support. There MUST be some limitations ("fighting words," for example),

          • My point is that Indians ARE capable of dealing with free speech, and that is what they are doing.

            No, your point was that human rights don't apply to Indians, and that we are being oppressive when we insist that they do. Or that's the way you came across, anyway.

            You are trying to impose an absolutist view of free speech into a context where absolute free speech is not workable AS A PRACTICAL MATTER.

            Bullshit. You responded to a post pointing out the likely practical consequences - it won't stop the crimina

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The cellphone fees are so high in Canada that nobody would ever use them for anything, including terrorism.

  • there are IMEI blacklists. If your phone is stolen in the UK you can (theoretically) put it on a blacklist so that it will not work on any of the networks here. Good luck with that level of cooperation in the USA by the way.

    Guess all the stolen UK phones end up in India.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vegeta99 ( 219501 )

      Yeah, FUCK AT&T. I had a Tilt (HTC TyTn II) stolen from me. They would deactivate the SIM, but not the phone itself. Then, they could tell me that my phone was on the network but not where. Thanks for making such a big market for stolen phones, assbags.

    • Ditto here in Australia. There's a very good reason why your phone company knows your IMEI. If your phone gets stolen, call em up and tell them. Within 24h, that phone is unusable on ANY network in Australia, and you avoid the thieves racking up an enormous bill on your stolen phone.

      This obviously makes stealing phones considerably less attractive, since the potential thief knows that the phone they have stolen will very quickly only be usable overseas.

  • Will these 25 million people still be able to use the blocked cels to call emergency services? If not, then I wonder how many people will die or suffer injury as a result. I'd have to think it will be more than will be saved by inconveniencing terrorists.

    • No problems on that count at least: There are no emergency services in India.
    • I strongly suspect that you will still be able to called emergency services on these blocked phones. Calling 112 from a GSM phone anywhere on earth will connect you to the local emergency number. Even if the phone is PIN-locked. Even if the phone ~~doesn't even have a SIM card in it~~!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you have a gun you can take someone's phone. All you need is to memorize a few phone numbers for home base and to pick a rich tourist who looks like they have money to steal a phone from.

    Some of the mumbai terrorists stole the hostage's phones and used them. Who's going to come after them for long distance overages in the afterlife when they've gunned down people already.

    If you need a bunch of phones at once you can bribe someone in a cell stand or cell shop. In a nation of that many people it is tough t

  • Landfill (Score:2, Insightful)

    How much landfill will 25 million phones take up?
  • This just in.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ghostdoc ( 1235612 )

    The state of Gelder, in a move to combat terrorism, has banned shoes.

    A spokesman for the government said 'We know from two recent terrorist attacks that the terrorists used shoes to transport themselves between attack targets. Consequently we are removing this method of transport from the terrorist's arsenal'.

    In a separate statement, ministers said they were considering the effectiveness of a ban on long trousers used by terrorists to conceal their knees.

  • Great (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Except that the Mumbai attackers kept in contact with Nokia phones.. Not cloned or invalid phones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:57PM (#30278694)

    This kind of news coverage and slant pisses me off. It is written as if this somehow infringes on your rights. The mobiles being banned are ones with FAKE IMIEs developed by unknown chinese companies that steel an IMIE and use it on thousands of phones. In US too you cannot get phones with fake IMIEs. In fact the telecom sector is a lot more restrictive than in India. In India, the handset is not tied to a particular carrier (there are exceptions, but they are not widespread like in the US). Even the IPhone here can be used with any carrier.
    The comments on slashdot seemed to suggest that the govt is doing something sinister and wrong and blah blah blah. All they are doing is enforcing a law that is the law in almost all countries including the US.
    This place is becoming more and more like fox news with its biased coverage and the way the news is peppered with lot of "seems" and "looks like" and "quotes" and "in the name of" generally giving the reader that is is something wrong that is done.
    And the cowboy commentator love to shoot off and let the world know their opinions without even knowing the facts or anything about the issue or even before RTFA

    • I went through all the posts here and hav no clue how u all made this out frm the biased story. The reporter has mentioned "national security" in double quotes. If a western country had done this then i am sure the news article would have been written differently. Just another instance of double standards. I don't think we should discuss this here and waste our time on it. I don't care for a newspaper site which doesn't even allow me to comment on the story online.
  • So here's the deal.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rexdude ( 747457 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:26AM (#30279282)

    Since I live here, I can shed some more light on what's actually going on:
    1) Knock off Chinese handsets sell at ridiculously low prices compared to the original phones (yet some have pretty innovative features). For eg, I saw a knockoff of the Nokia N73 about a year ago with TV out and support for dual SIM cards. It ran some Chinese imitation of S60, and had all the usual features- camera, bluetooth, infrared, wifi, and cost about 6000 Rs. (about $130), compared to an original Nokia N73 that cost about 12-13k Rs. at the same time. Quality-wise these phones are quite dubious, they can fail at anytime and/or ship with exploding batteries. They're usually popular among the poorer sections of society (mobile phone penetration is VERY high in India- you will find people living in slums in Bombay/Delhi who don't have proper sanitation, but still have a mobile phone of some sort).

    2) As others have mentioned- our mobile market is much freer than the US- operators don't have any say in what phone you use, call rates are the lowest in the world, incoming calls/SMS are free by law. Switching service providers is a breeze, just get a fresh connection and pop in the SIM you want.
    We also have prepaid SIM cards- so if you're visiting here, you can just buy one for about Rs. 300 ($6) and use it, and pay as you go. These have also been used by terrorists in the past- so now you have to show proof of ID and fill out a form before getting one. (Foreign tourists would have to show their passports).

    3) Counterfeit IMEIs are a royal concern for legitimate customers- if an IMEI is blocked it also blocks legitimate users. Also, if your IMEI is being used by a terrorist, it puts you under unnecessary suspicion and subject to inquiry as well.

    4) The concept of privacy is alien to a large part of the population. Part of it is cultural, growing up in joint families, living in crowded tenements, and the general gregariousness with which 2 perfect strangers will end up discussing family matters during a long journey.
    We don't have anything as influential as the EFF in the US, and no one among the educated middle class raised any concerns over the current National ID card [] being proposed. Many in fact have welcomed it, thinking it will help secure the country against terrorism. This is far more insidious and has more potential for abuse than enforcing use of an IMEI.

    and finally, the old proverb- 'Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity' is quite valid for the Indian govt.

    Given the above, especially #2 and 3, it's a fairly sensible move to block counterfeit IMEIs and phones that lack them.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      European expats working abroad would share AOL CD's like party stories. This would seem very altruistic with the slight side effect that every version of a particular CD would end up with the same Instant Messenger ID, which would get rather confusing for people trying to contact their friends. Now that AOL has given up on modem pools, this isn't a problem any more.

    • Thanks for summing up the situation quite well.
    • Let me also add here, the news is reporting that mobile carriers are going to offer a service to people with these phones to install a new IMEI number on their phone. No details were given (on what i saw) about how this would be done or who is offering this but they mentioned it would cost Rs 200 (~$5), so i don't see this as being a huge deal. Also it was only a couple of months ago that a ban was placed on all pre-paid mobile SIMs in the state of Kashmir since these were being used by many cross-border te
  • This news is similar in intent to the previous fake news:

    Just as in the case of previous news, I went through Indian media extensively and I couldn't find ANY THING like this.

    People, I beg you to wake up.

    • Its not fake. It is happening in India. But the way it has been reported is wrong. It makes ppl feel as if something sinister is being done by the Indian govt.
  • Are we missing the point here? Is this India's way of imposing anti-dumping duty on illegally imported chinese handsets and making it difficult for people to buy them?

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.