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A Resolution calling on the Government to put in place legislation to discourage the theft of cellular phones and their use in criminal activities has been approved by the House of Representatives.
The motion, which was brought by Member of Parliament for West Central St.Andrew, Andrew Holness, calls on the Government to consider legislation to make it illegal for anyone to tamper or adjust the International Mobile Equipment identification number of mobile GSM phones; make it compulsory for all service providers to participate in a national database of all cell phones in the island, which would be connected with other GSM mobile service providers internationally through the GSM association; ensure that all GSM units which have been ‘blacklisted’ in the database are barred from local networks; and ensure that in the event of theft, the instrument can be shut down or blocked by the service provider upon request by the owner, once ownership can be established.
Mr. Holness’ appeal comes in light of the increase in the number of crimes involving mobile cellular phones, including the murder of two 17 year-old girls during the robbery of their phones.
The Member of Parliament said while the introduction of cellular phone technology in Jamaica has impacted the speed of communication and has increased the networking of society, it was necessary that regulations be put in as they have become a motivation to commit crime. Furthermore, he noted that, “the level of anonymity in accessing communication networks has made the cell phone a very powerful instrument of crime”.
“The cell phone market has evolved in such a way that someone could acquire a telephone anonymously or acquire a telephone number anonymously and under GSM, anyone possessing an instrument lawfully or otherwise can access the network; in many ways this provides incentives,” he added.
While acknowledging that databases partially existed at the level of the service providers, he pointed out that they were not integrated into a national database.
According to Mr. Holness, with a database and assignment of all phones, stolen phones could be reported and blacklisted, remotely shut down or barred from the network after proof of ownership has been supplied. “If these steps are taken, then the incentives to steal phones for resale on a black market or for personal re-use would be greatly reduced as the probability of the phone being barred would be great,” he noted.
In his comments, National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips said the motion was supported as it was recognized that there was an issue with the theft of cell phones as well as their use in the commission of crimes. He said while there was no intention to reduce or restrain the availability of the commodity, it was necessary that appropriate regulations be put in place for the protection of the society as a whole and the rights of law abiding citizens.
“What will be required is that the Commerce, Science and Technology Ministry will, in conjunction with the security forces and the providers, prepare the appropriate drafting instructions for the necessary legislation in keeping with the recommendation of the motion, so that it can be approved by Cabinet and returned to the House for consideration and it will be done with dispatch,” the Minister said.
Dr. Phillips, who is also Leader of Government Business in the House, said given the evidence in other countries, the passage of the law would not be a panacea but pointed out that alongside the legislation there would have to be a greater level of vigilance, both on the part of cell phone users and service providers.
Commerce, Science and Technology Minister, Phillip Paulwell said even though Jamaica’s penetration level was a notable phenomenon, there was no intention to become complacent as the ultimate intention was to create a knowledge based society.
In terms of the call to make it illegal for persons to tamper or adjust the International Mobile Equipment identification number of mobile GSM phones, Minister Paulwell said consultations have been undertaken in addition to dialogue with industry players and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR). He said this aspect of the Resolution was being addressed.
On the matter of the recommendation to make it compulsory for all service providers to participate in a national database of all cell phones in the island, the Minister said the OUR was the appropriate body to be designated to host such a database. He said that once a system of blacklisting of cell phones was formalized, mobile operators in Jamaica would not be expected to legally provide service to cell phones that have been flagged as lost or stolen in the Equipment Identity Register.
He further noted that all mobile service providers were able to block or remotely shut down cell phones that had been reported stolen and as such, there was no difficulty with making the stipulation a legal requirement. Mr. Paulwell assured that the Ministry would, in conjunction with the National Security Ministry, work towards getting the drafting instructions done so the matter could be returned to Parliament for swift passage.
It is estimated that cell phone motivated crimes in the United Kingdom range between 700,000 and 900,000 incidents per year, with similar situations in France and other parts of Europe where GSM is the main mode of wireless technology. Australia, South Africa, the Philippines and Brazil also face similar problems with their GSM phones.
Parliament in the United Kingdom has passed a Mobile Phone Reprogramming Bill, which makes it illegal to reprogramme the unique International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) numbers in phones. Governments in South Africa and the Philippines have passed extensive legislation to regulate the ownership and use of cellular phones, including registration of cell phones.