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Hack Your Phone, Go to Jail 577

thodu writes: "This bill [Mobile Telephones (Re-Programming)] in the UK aims to make it illegal for anyone to change a GSM phone's IMEI number. Though the intention in this case is seemingly for the good (to track and prevent stolen phones from being used), the line between legitimate mods and illegal hacks is increasingly becoming blurred. What next - a bill to disallow modifying your PC ?"
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Hack Your Phone, Go to Jail

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  • A good thing... (Score:4, Informative)

    by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:55AM (#3991644) Homepage
    While I generally don't agree with restrictions on the use of hardware I buy, this is a special case. The law is intended to reduce the amount of phone-thefts in the UK (the phones are then reprogrammed and re-sold). There is currently a huge problem with phone theft over here which is driven by the fact it's so simple to give a stolen phone a new identity, so I don't think this legislation is over the top...
  • by ProfKyne ( 149971 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:55AM (#3991653)

    I don't mean to troll here, but isn't this similar to laws against removing VIN (vehicle id numbers) and serial numbers from high-cost goods in the US?

    Of course, if this law extends to prohibit other modification of the phone that interferes with fair use, I suppose that's different....

  • by altgrr ( 593057 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:59AM (#3991688)
    Other than copyright of the internal code of the phone, there is no reason why changing the IMEI number of a phone should be illegal (and the copyright reason is a dubious one at that).

    However, there should be a law in place to prevent phones with an incorrect IMEI number being used on GSM networks.

    As has been pointed out, there is no genuine reason, other than research, to want to change the IMEI number of a phone - usually, the reason is to avoid blacklisting by networks such as Orange and T-Mobile (Vodafone and O2 do not operate such a scheme currently.)

    If there are problems with people changing the IMEI number of a phone, perhaps the IMEI should be hard-coded into one of the chips in the phone - it would then make it a lot harder to successfully, and transparently, change a phone's IMEI number.

    Essentially, what those who are attempting to introduce this law are saying, is that there is a need to do something about people changing IMEI numbers. And this remains the case.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:15AM (#3991812)
    Gosh here we go again, let me repeat, there is no scientific value in the IMEI number all the things of value are stored in the SIM card which is encrypted anyway, are we clear yet?

    Changing the IMEI number is the equivalent to changing the chassis number of your car. What scientific value would there be in that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:32AM (#3991947)
    It is *not* illegal to change the VIN of a car. It is quite legal in the UK to grind the VIN from a vehicle or trailer and stamp in another (and you can make a number up), assuming you make it clear to any potential purchaser and the DVLC.

    What is illegal is to change the VIN of a car, not notify the DVLC and put it on the road. This is often done to pass a car as a "ringer" w/the same VIN as another similar car.

    It the same vien, a fraud involving changing the IMEI as the modus operandi is illegal. Changing the IMEI for the hell of it and not connecting the the network (comp. putting car on road) should not be a crime.

  • by suicidal ( 111181 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:42AM (#3992026)
    I own my car, can I scratch the VIN off it?

    Yep, just don't try registering it ever again.

    I own my gas supply, can I leave it running until the street blows up?

    No, that would endanger others and damage property that is not owned by you.

    I own a radio scanner, can I use it to scan police frequencies?

    Sure Can.
  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:48AM (#3992067)
    That wouldn't help since these are stolen phones, and people who steal phones rarely go to the phone company and sign a contract.

    Stealing things is against the law. Handling stolen goods is against the law. Passing off stolen goods as not stolen is against the law. There looks to be plenty of applicable criminal law here.
    Indeed the text of the bill specifically states "There will be minimal resource implications for the criminal justice agencies - the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and the Prison Service - to investigate, enforce, prosecute and process the cases through the courts and to accommodate convicted offenders given a custodial sentence. The number of cases prosecuted under this new offence are likely to be relatively small in number," In which case the whole thing starts to look like a waste of time.
  • by karmawarrior ( 311177 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:52AM (#3992097) Journal
    The FCC has banned ESN, the AMPS/IS-136-alike("TDMA")/IS-95-alike("CDMA") equivalent of IMEI numbers, cloning for years. This, ironically, has actually damaged the chances of AMPS derived network systems from being able to grow much in functionality because the ESN is linked to hardware and is the only "authentication" system the networks have to validate that a particular phone number is real. In GSM, the authentication is on the SIM card, not tied to the phone hardware, so this isn't an issue.

    I've downloaded tools from the internet to remove the service provider locks on phones I've legally bought (these have nothing to do with the IMEI number, they're locks that prevent someone buying a phone with, say, BellSouth DCS, and then using it on a VoiceStream network), and the tools generally have the dodgy "change things like the IMEI and other things that shouldn't be changed" functionality as well as the useful bits. This is not, IMHO, a good thing...

    I don't see any reason to oppose IMEI number protection laws, and see every reason to support what the British government are doing, unless service providors start preventing people from using their networks who haven't bought their "official" hardware, but given that no network makes a profit from the sales of hardware, I don't see such a foot-shooting exercise occuring any time soon. If ever.

  • by CthulhuTequila ( 597715 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:12AM (#3992252)
    First off... A thousand apologies (and one I'm sorry) if I'm repeating an existing post. I wasn't able to read all the discussion as I am at work and can't stay on too long. Here's a quick explanation of the two things about cell phones I've seen so far. First the IMEI number. Several people have compared them to Automobile VIN numbers. This is dead on accurate! Basically an IMEI is like a serial number that states "I am Cell Phone #1101". The only really useful way I can think of to change that number would be to trick someone into believing that Cell Phone #1101 was in fact Cell Phone #11111. If anyone can think of a practical use for changing an IMEI other than that, I would honestly be interested to hear it. (And no that is not the way IMEI numbers are formatted, but who really cares). When you activate service you give the service provider this number so they can know which phone you have and also where to send the activation signal (which I usually bypass and activate the phone manually, the service people take FOREVER!!). After activation the IMEI number also tells the service provider where to send your phone calls to. BTW, some phones have an ESN instead of an IMEI. I'm a little fuzzy on the difference, someone once told me it had to do with what sort of network is used, but I'm not sure. They're essentially the same as IMEIs as far as I can tell, if anyone knows for sure the difference and doesn't mind explaining it to me, let me know. The other thing mentioned was the SIM card. This is basically a memory chip, but not for your regular storage stuff (phone numbers, ringtons, etc.) The SIM card stores your phone number and some other things (I'm honestly ignorant on the SIM cards other functions, again feel free to educate me). So that's what I know (or at least what I think I know). I may be way off base. If I am, please forgive me. From what I know, it seems that messing around with the SIM card may or may not be illegal and that might bear some looking into. Messing with the IMEI/ESN numbers unless done for illegal purposes would be pretty pointless. You could change your IMEI/ESN in your phone to one that matches an already activated phone, and have a duplicate of their phone able to make and recieve some poor guys calls. For what it's worth, Caller ID's would show calls from your phoney phone to be coming from a different number than the poor suckers'. I guess that really wouldn't matter to the thief unless he's playing some serious mind games with the sucker (and it really wouldn't be too terribly hard to fix that phone number issue). My point is, without having a law against messing with your IMEI/ESN, the only useful reason to do so is already illegal (as has been stated before), so rather than cluttering the books with duplicate laws, let's just use the ones we have. That's all for now, I hope I haven't irritated anyone too terribly much, and I hope my memory and education have served me and I haven't made too many SNAFUs. Take care
  • Re:A good thing... (Score:2, Informative)

    by hetfield ( 129762 ) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:28AM (#3992399)
    You don't have to steal the phone to be able to re-program it. Many time stolen phones are sold to a "middle-man" who re-programs it and then sells the new phone on the black market. Sure, the person who is changing the ID number knows the phone is stolen, but if they didn't steal it themselves they didn't commit the crime of theft.

    The worst someone like that could possibly be charged with is knowingly receiving stolen goods, or whatever your local equivalent is.
  • "you are still alowed to do that, There is no connection between IMEI and your phone number. IMEI is more like a MAC adress your phone number is pure software,(actualy bound to the sim#) So bad example."

    Yeah but at the level of the cell phone network hardware, the IMEI number (or in my case the ESN number) is what identifies the phone to the network.

    If your phone is stolen and you tell the mobile service provider, they tell the network to disable access to the phone with the ESN# (or IMEI#) shown on your account information. If you change this ESN/IMEI number, you can register this phone again with a new service provider on a new account and the network won't know the difference and won't be able to disable the phone's access.

    This is why changing the IMEI number is valuable to phone crooks.

  • Its not hard. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Huogo ( 544272 ) <adam&thepeacock,net> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @05:20PM (#3995005) Homepage
    Take any nokia phone. Type "*3001#12345#". Boom, scroll to serial no., and change it. You can modify most any phone setting from there.

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