The Indian government, in a bid to check counterfeiting of 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers, has passed a law making the act a punishable offence.

Tampering of IMEI numbers has of recent become a headache for security officials, as duplication results in deactivation of wrong mobile phones. It also interfered with interception (with court warrants) of criminals' and terrorists' mobile phones.

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The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) had in 2009 passed an order telling telecom companies to cancel services to mobile phones that had fake IMEI numbers, but it did not bear any fruit, as the firms failed to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit IMEI numbers.

Recently, in an IMEI-tampering investigation, the DoT's Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring Cell found around 18,000 handsets using the same IMEI number.

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[Representational Image] Mobile phone IMEI number tampering will land you in jail In Picture: A man inspects the Apple iPhone 6 Plus at an electronics store in Mumbai, India, July 23, 2015Reuters

For those unaware, the IMEI number is assigned by a group of mobile phone-makers — the GSM (Groupe Spéciale Mobile) Association — and related global bodies.

It includes information about the origin, model, and serial number of the phone, which makes the device and distinguishable from billions of other devices.

Whenever a user makes a call to anybody, the call records show only two mobile number and the IMEI digits, which the police use to track phone during their routine criminal investigation.

Fed up with the menace, the DoT consulted experts in June this year to frame new rules that prohibit illegal tinkering of mobile IMEI numbers.

It has come up with new statute, "The Prevention of Tampering of the Mobile Device Equipment Identification Number, Rules, 2017," which combines Sections 7 and 25 of the Indian Telegraph Act.

The former gives the DoT the power to frame rules related to conduct of telecommunication or telegraph services and the latter lets them handle mobile-tampering issues by making it a penal offence that entails jail term.

A person found guilty of mobile IMEI number counterfeiting — by physically altering the digits on a mobile or using software to add a fake number, depending up on the severity of the issue — will have to cough up a hefty fine or spend up to three years in prison, or both.

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