The Department of Telecom is working on rules to make tampering of IMEI number an offence punishable with up to three years of imprisonment, as per a report by Press Trust of India. The publication added that the new rules are being formed in combination of section 7 and section 25 of the Indian Telegraph Act.

Section 7 gives the Department the power to make rules for the conduct of telecom or telegraph services, section 25 deals with damaging a telegraph line, machines, and related equipment. While there is no mention of when the rules will be finalized, PTI quoted a government official saying the rules would be notified in the gazette once finalised.

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity Number, a unique 15- digit serial number assigned to each mobile phone. The IMEI number can be used to prevent theft and track mobile phones.

It is also worth noting that stolen handsets can be hacked and the IMEI numbers can be changed with online generators. In March this yearDelhi Police found a number of cases where the IMEI number of stolen phones is changed using a device called Flasher. 

Government ban on import of devices with fake or duplicate numbers

In January 2015, the government banned the import of mobile phones with duplicate or fake IMEI numbers in a bid to help security agencies in tracking callers using different SIM cards. The director general of foreign trade in a notification had said GSM handsets with duplicate or fake IMEI and CDMA handsets with fake or duplicate ESN/MEID are added to the list of prohibited items for import.

Prior to this, there was already an order in place which banned the import of mobile phones with fake IMEI numbers in 2009. The new rule further extended the ban to duplicate handsets as well. Generally, the grey market in India thrives on cloning the IMEI numbers of genuine handsets.

25 million fresh IMEI assigned in 2009

However, it is worth noting that in May 2009, instead of banning the 25 million handsets which did not have IMEI numbers, the government had decided to fix them by issuing fresh numbers obtained from the industry body GSMA. A software to embed these numbers onto handsets was developed by Cellular Operators Association of India in collaboration with handset body Mobile Standard Alliance of India.