The government has made tampering with a mobile phone's IMEI number, the 15-digit identification code unique to a handset, a punishable offence that can land offenders in jail for up to three years.
The move is expected to help curb the problem of fake IMEI numbers and make tracking lost handsets easier. "It shall be unlawful, if a person, except the manufacturer - intentionally removes, obliterates, changes, or alters unique Mobile Device Equipment Identification number," the telecom department (DoT) said in a notification dated August 25.
The new rules bar a person from knowingly using a device whose IMEI number has been changed unlawfully or software that can change or tamper with the unique number.
The rules combine Sections 7 and 25 of the Indian Telegraph Act. While Section 7 gives the DoT the power to make rules for the conduct of telecom or telegraph services, Section 25 deals with damage to equipment with a penal provision of up to three years in jail or a fine, or both.
A handset's IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity, allotted by global industry body GSMA and bodies authorised by it, is unique to it. Whenever a user makes a call, the call record shows the caller's phone number and the handset's IMEI number.
The DoT had started consultations in June to frame strict laws to deal with IMEI tampering, which makes tracking difficult. The department had barred telecom operators in 2009 from providing their services to any mobile phone with a fake IMEI number, but operators face problems in identifying handsets with a duplicate IMEI.
In one tracking case, the DoT's Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring cell found around 18,000 handsets using the same IMEI number.