Britain Unveils Mobile Anti-Theft Plan

It marks the first time telcos have pledged to disable stolen phones within a set time frame. But consumers fear crooks will still prevail

The government and the mobile phone operators today announced a commitment to help cut mobile phone street thefts which have contributed to an eight per cent rise in UK robbery.

While operators have been blocking SIMs and IMEIs (the unique serial number for a handset) for some time, this is the first time all have committed to disabling stolen phones within a set time frame.

The five major operators have signed up to a charter that will see them agree to block stolen phones across each of the UK's networks within 48 hours - or face having their failures exposed.

Tony Maher, executive liaison officer with Micaf, the taskforce set up to monitor the operators' performance and develop policy, said: "There is now a formal agreement and accountability. If it becomes necessary — and we hope it won't — we will name and shame."

The government is committing £1.35m to helping fund a new unit charged with curbing the robberies and will also be launching an advertising campaign to warn phone users of the threat of theft.

Phone robbery victim Lucy Holliday, a conference organiser, said the initiative "made sense". She added: "Encouraging vigilance could be of some assistance but I am not sure if it would have a significant impact on the number of incidences."

Journalist Guy Cocker, whose phone was recently stolen in a street robbery, said he believes the protection will eventually be circumvented. "It's like with all security measures - nothing is ever 100 per cent. As soon as some new technique is figured out, I'm sure the crooks will crack it."

Currently, the initiative will prevent any stolen devices from being resold in the UK but handsets can be activated if taken abroad.

Fellow victim, Rachel Dorban, an administrator, said she also believed the scheme would not stop people selling on the stolen handsets abroad. "It will make absolutely no difference... I fail to see how this protects the mobile phone owner to any great degree - they will still have had their phone stolen," she said.

According to Micaf's Maher, while the worldwide industry has a global register of stolen phones, not all operators are signed up to it and mobile phone theft reporting procedures differ widely across the world.

He said: "One of our partners, the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, is looking at the export issues... The bricks are in place and the foundation is laid."