Sunday, December 13, 2009

Should IMEI Be A Reasonable National Security Criteria In India?

The Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) recently arrested five people from a cell phone repair shop for implanting fake International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers in cell phones. It is a general perception that the 15-digit IMEI number can be used to identify a handset on an operator’s network, allowing individual calls to be traced to the phone it came from.

Does this assertion has any significant national security importance? Having knowledge about the IMEI number has many advantages for law enforcement and telecom service providers. The IMEI number is used by the GSM network to identify valid devices and therefore can be used to stop a stolen phone from accessing the network. If a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can call his or her network provider and instruct them to "ban" the phone using its IMEI number. This renders the phone useless, whether or not the phone's SIM is changed.

However, the bigger question is whether absence of an IMEI number per se is as offensive as to attract the “national security clause” and to brand a holder of such mobile a “terrorist”?

According to Praveen Dalal, the leading Techno-Legal Expert of India and Managing Partner of Perry4Law we need to have additional information besides IMEI for national security purposes. The IMEI is only used to identify the device, and has no permanent or semi-permanent relation to the subscriber, says Dalal. However, many network and security features are enabled by knowing the current device being used by a subscriber, suggests Dalal.

Although a good start has been made by the Indian government yet it has to cover a long road ahead. There is an urgent need to impart good techno-legal training to law enforcement and intelligence agencies so that national security can be protected as much as possible. The government must also train law enforcement officers in techno-legal fields so that they may effectively deal with the technology related crimes in India.