Mobile phones have become a ubiquitous part of our daily life. But little do we know that the phone we use every day might share the same unique ID as the phone being used by a terrorist.
The IMEI, or International Mobile Equipment Identity, is a 15- or 17-digit code that uniquely identifies a mobile phone set.
The phone code – which is supposed to be unique to each individual device – lets law enforcers identify and track criminals. The IMEI code also enables mobile networks to prevent a misplaced or stolen phone from initiating calls.
But in Bangladesh, IMEI codes are being duplicated – either to mask illegally imported and stolen phones or to hide the identity and location of a phone’s owner.
According to an alarming finding from Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association (BMPIA), a single IMEI number was found to be assigned to over 7,000 mobile phones.
The Detective Branch of police says duplicated IMEI has made it difficult for them to trace the whereabouts of criminals and terrorists.
The situation has been made worse because it now takes as little as Tk300 to change the IMEI code of a phone, the Dhaka Tribune has learned from its own investigation.
While visiting mobile phone stores at Gulistan underpass market recently, a Dhaka Tribune reporter was told by a shopkeeper that it would cost only Tk1,000 to unlock an illegally imported iPhone and an additional Tk2,000 to change the IMEI of the handset.
Asked whether customers were often seeking to change their phone’s IMEIs, the shopkeeper, who requested to stay unnamed, said owners of second-hand phones mostly seek the service to avoid any trouble with the law. A Chinese software is used to change the IMEI code, he said.
Sources told the Dhaka Tribune that phone stores in Gulistan, Eastern Plaza and Motaleb Plaza offer to illegally change IMEI codes. The cost for changing the IMEI of high-end phones are between Tk2,000 and Tk3,000, while for low-end phones it costs only Tk300 to Tk1,000.
Law enforcers say many criminals are using illegal services from these stores to hide their identity and location.
Asked about the situation, DMP Deputy Commissioner Maruf Hossain Sarder said they were keeping an eye on such activities and action would be taken after gathering proof.
But in the meantime, more and more tech-savvy criminals are going incognito to evade the eyes of lawmen.
During a recent drive, detectives found over 80 mobile phones with the same IMEI number, said Saiful Islam, additional deputy commissioner of DB police.
Pointing out that neighbouring India has its individual registration process for IMEIs, Saiful said: “Once such a system is introduced in Bangladesh, it will help us trace criminals in a short time and stop the use of technology in criminal offences.”
IMEI registration on the cards
Sources at the Posts and Telecommunication Division said the process of registering mobile devices would start soon after the completion of the ongoing biometric SIM registration initiative.
State Minister for Telecom Tarana Halim told the Dhaka Tribune recently that necessary steps for mobile phone registration have already been taken.
But verifying the large number of mobile phones being sold each year is expected to be a colossal task.
According to BMPIA statistics, around 26 million mobile phones were imported legally in Bangladesh last year; but a further 3.6 million illegal devices were estimated to have been smuggled in as well.
Rezwanul Haque, general secretary of the BMPIA, told the Dhaka Tribune that a system needs to be in place so that no mobile phone can be opened without a legally authorised IMEI number given by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regularity Commission.
Such a system would not only reduce the use of duplicate IMEI numbers but also bring down incidents of mobile phone theft, Rezwanul said, adding that the number of crimes using duplicate IMEIs would also go down.
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