Canadian police push for new law against phone theft

The Vancouver Police Department is working with other police departments and associations across the country to crack down on phone theft by pushing a new law that would make it mandatory for all phone companies in Canada to disable International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers once they are reported stolen. Photo credit: CommonCognition.com.

With phone thefts on the rise across Canada, police forces are pressuring the federal government to pass a new legislation that could make it easier for police to find and recover stolen phones. 

In Canada, if a phone is stolen the SIM card can be removed and a new one put in and the phone reactivated. However, if the phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is disabled, the phone cannot be reactivated anywhere. An IMEI is unique to each phone, like a fingerprint. The US and the United Kingdom have passed a law mandating phone companies to disable IMEI numbers. (To find a phone IMEI's number, call "*#06#".) 

Currently, major telecommunications companies already record IMEI numbers when a phone is listed as missing, but there is no legislation that makes this mandatory.

In Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Department reported that there were 195 cell phone robberies in 2011, a 37 per cent increase from 2010. In all cases, some form of violence was used to steal the phone.

Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall explained that when a phone is reported stolen, the phone's information (including its IMEI) is uploaded into an information database from its security team, which is then shared with other telecommunications companies and police. Hall did not cite which companies were part of this network. Bell and Fido were unavailable to comment on their own procedures when it comes to sharing information on stolen phones.

There is currently no legislation in Canada directed towards banning the reactivation of stolen cell phones, nor any that mandates telecommunications companies to provide IMEI codes to Canadian police. The Vancouver Police department stated in a press release that such a law would "stop or prevent" cell phone thefts.

However, the VPD concedes that if the cellphone is a smart phone, thieves can still use its other functions such as wifi, applications, and camera. Hall also pointed out that in many cases, phones that are reported stolen are simply misplaced, which would complicate the logistics of then retrieving an IMEI number sent to police. The whole process would have to be an extremely comprehensive system between all parties, he said. 

The police stated that their lobbying efforts did not include reaching out to any telecommunications companies directly. 

Hall recommends that the best preventative measure people can take against cell phone theft is common sense precautions, such as not leaving their phones unattended or in places where they can be easily swiped.

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