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LCQ9: Theft and snatching of mobile phones

     Following is a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Hon Albert Ho Chun-yan in the Legislative Council today (June 6):


     Mobile phones have become more and more popular in Hong Kong, and its penetration rate ranks first in the world.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the number of reported cases of loss of mobile phones ("loss cases") received by the Police in each of the past three years and, among them, the number of those related to theft and robbery;

(b) among such loss cases, of the number of those in which the mobile phones could eventually be recovered;

(c) of the major means by which the authorities recovered the mobile phones; and

(d) whether the authorities will consider following overseas examples by setting up a centralised reporting system through which lost mobile phones can be traced using their International Mobile Equipment Identity numbers, so as to avoid such phones being used by other persons for illegal purposes?



     This question involves issues of two aspects: theft and snatching of mobile phones [parts (a) to (c)] and setting up of a centralised reporting system/database [part (d)].  We have consulted the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) on the reply to part (d) which is related to the CEDB's programme areas.  The reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The number of theft cases involving mobile phones reported in the past three years is at Annex.

(b) and (c) The Police do not have corresponding statistical figures of reported cases of loss of mobile phones or the figures of recovery of such phones.  The Police are greatly concerned about the crime situation related to theft and snatching cases.  Tackling ˇ§quick cashˇ¨ crimes, in particular pick-pocketing, miscellaneous theft and snatching, remains the Operational Priorities of the Police for 2012.  In the meantime, the Fight Crime Committee has identified "Beware of Deception" and "Mind Your Belongings" as the themes of the fight crime publicity campaign for 2012-13 with a view to enhancing publicity on crime prevention.  The Police will continue to step up patrols at black spots and conduct intelligence-led raiding operations to places where the stolen goods are sold.

(d) The Administration is aware that some overseas government departments or communications service providers have set up a central database of the built-in International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers to prevent the reuse of stolen mobile phones.  The Police have approached the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) (formerly known as the Office of the Telecommunications Authority) to understand the feasibility of adopting such measure in Hong Kong.  In this regard, OFCA considers that there may be certain difficulties in setting up an IMEI database in Hong Kong:

     Firstly, some of the handset manufacturers have not embedded a valid IMEI number in the mobile phones and it is possible that the IMEI number of a phone can be changed.  Such being the case, preventing the reuse of stolen mobile phones by means of IMEI numbers may not be effective;

     Secondly, most of the mobile phones lost in Hong Kong will be smuggled out of Hong Kong for use.  Only by reaching an agreement with the authorities in those areas and by registering the IMEI number of each lost phone with the mobile phone operators there can we ensure that the lost mobile phones are disabled when they are put to use in any communication networks of areas outside Hong Kong.  Besides, all mobile phone operators concerned in Hong Kong and these areas have to install an Equipment Identity Register (EIR) system before they can make use of such technology.  However, such a system is yet to gain popularity in the industry.  If the lost mobile phones are smuggled to areas outside Hong Kong for use and if the mobile phone operators there have not installed the EIR system, the IMEI database will not function even if it has been set up.

     In fact, with the advancement of mobile phone technology and prevalence of smart phones, users of such phones can make use of certain software to keep track of their lost smart phones, or lock up their phones by means of remote control.

Ends/Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:53


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