back to article Met steps up stop and search with mobile phone scanner

People stopped by the police in parts of London are having their phones scanned and instantly checked against a national database to determine whether they are stolen. The on-the-spot checks, reminiscent of Police National Computer (PNC) checks for stopped vehicles, are being trialled by officers in Ealing and Bromley. A …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's that you say

    My phone IMEI... sure.. I'll give you that to scan under the condition you do not get my name if it's not stolen. Ow can't have that you say? Then no you may not scan it. A stop and search you say? I'll be going now. You may wish to contact my solicitor at 1800-S-T-U-F-F-I-T.

    They can pry my gadgets from my cold dead hands.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Which is easier to forge? a label under the battery, or the output of typing *#06# into the phone?

    I say they need to (at least be able to) check both.

  3. Admiral Grace Hopper

    All fine and dandy

    But how tall do you have to be before they'll want to check your phone?

  4. zedee

    Fairly invasive

    To scan the IMEI barcode I reckon most phones need the battery out, which is to say you have to affect its operation and turn it off.

    Is there reasonable suspicion of a phone being stolen due to it being possessed by someone who has been randomly stopped and searched?

    Sure you can do *#06# but that's not the point.

  5. Tommy Pock

    Mobile phone manufacturers in the late 90s, early 00s...

    never shared information in regards to the IMEI numbers - so they're not necessarily unique.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    Mr Plod stops me for no apparent reason and demands that I take the battery out of my phone so he can check the ID? What happens if I refuse, what if its not convenient for me to do so? Are they going to arrest me for being in possession of a phone which the only reason they suspect might be stolen is because I refuse to shut it down and take the battery out? Stalin and Hitler would be right at home in modern day London.

    BTW - has anyone tried taking the back cover off the G1? Its a complete bugger and each time I do it I'm worried I'm going to snap something off. Even the T-Mobile store had to have about 5 goes so they could scan it before sending it away for repair.

  7. Michael Fremlins

    But suspected of what?

    "A Met spokesman said the device was merely a new tool officers could use when they stop and search suspects". But what are these "suspects" suspected of? I can see this being absolutely ripe for abuse by the plod, something alas seems to be the norm these days.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Neil 4

    Scan the barcode?

    Why can't they just type it in? Even the iPhone will show you it's IMEI.

    Sounds to me like they've been ripped off for a bunch of probably very overpriced barcode scanners that don't actually do anything clever.

  10. Stuart Morgan

    Fans? What fans?

    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

  11. Throatwobbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    In the absence of pre-existing or genuine concern about ownership of the phone...

    ...this is the absolute epitome of a fishing expedition.

  12. Scary

    data loss

    So you have to take the battery out and lose all your volatile data...

  13. redbook

    It's sounds stoopid but the Board will approve it.

    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

  14. burundi


    As useful as a chocolate teapot as soon as the theives realise and start making new IMEI barcode stickers.

    And not likely to get beyond t'big smoke since the rest of the uk isn't under constant terror alert.

  15. Lionel Baden

    They could alway stick to Iphones

    OR ......


    peel off the sticker !!!!

    i dont disagree with it tbh, but it would annoy me having to pull the battery out of my phone

  16. RayDio

    Stolen phone database

    We have a national stolen phone database? When did that happen? Can I use it to see if the phone the guy down the pub wants to sell me is stolen, or is it just for coppers to play with?

    I thought when you said "scanner" you meant in the radio sense, not the optical sense. Is it now an offense to remove the IMEI sticker?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is bizarre.

    Surely there aren't that many stolen phones in people's pockets these days because of the blocking measures mentioned in the article. The "490" figure might be deliberately misleading, even if they did say "mostly during stop and search". Also, if the police start scanning barcodes, won't the thieves just remove the barcodes? So is there perhaps something else behind this? Are they in fact more interested in finding out who owns the phone so they can put that on a database and track the owner's movement, in the past and in the future?

  18. Iggle Piggle

    You could also defeat this by ...

    ... peeling the label off

  19. Christoph

    Check the barcode?

    Isn't it lucky that criminals don't have the technology to forge barcodes.

    Presumably we now have the new offence of failing to produce a mobile phone on the feeble excuse that you aren't carrying one. Obviously suspicious - either you're lying and a criminal, or trying to avoid being tracked so must be a terrorist.

    Of course there's no such crime on the statute books, but that's hardly going to slow plod down any more than the absence of a law against taking photographs.

  20. Steve Evans


    Okay, so currently the phones are stolen and then shipped out to somewhere like Africa, or they have their IMEI number changed so they can still log onto UK networks.

    So now with the new scanner, they well have to add "Scratch the barcode" label off. Sure it looks suspicious, but we still have innocent until proven guilty in this country... Or are they going to sneak that one out through the backdoor and give it a quick bullet between the ears at the same time?

    I'm sure it won't be long before the naughty people can start producing convincing looking replacement labels.

  21. R 11


    Are there any phones that don't display the IMEI when *#06# is entered on the keypad? I thought that was part of the GSM spec.

  22. richard 7

    They are likeley going to be told to sod off

    Windows mobile phone here, so thats going to be my open apps, anything I've not saved et all lost so they can inconvience me.

    One more reason NOT to go near London, as if I needed one.

    And as others have pointed out, *#06# Yup, even works on an HTC 'doze phone.

    Lets see. Keyboard wedge barcode scanner - £34

    Netbook £160

    GPRS Modem £30

    PHP/Whatever form to search a central database, few £100

    Bet your bottom dollar the price tag on this was £500k +

  23. redbook

    Game For A Laugh?

    So Police will now arrest you on suspicion of theft based on information provided by a privately owned and run database (Recipero Ltd).

    Here's a jolly jape. Get the IMEI number of your mates phone (dial *#06#). Register for a free account at, the public entry point to the database (appears you only need to provide an e-mail address). Register the IMEI and flag as stolen. Now wait for him to get stopped by the Police..

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    @ Cristophe - "new offence of failing to produce"

    I refer m'learned friends to the following article on El Reg:

    "Lack of traffic data is what becomes suspicious. There are already two documented cases in Europe where not carrying a mobile phone was considered one of the grounds for arrest."

  25. bobbles31

    Where does it end?

    Excuse me sir, we would just like to scan the IMEI on your phone to see if it's stolen. It's just a quick check won't take two minutes, surely you won't mind.

    Excuse me sir, we would just like to read the serial number on your sun glasses to see if they are stolen.....

    Excuse me sir, we would just like to scan the RFID in your Calvin Kleins because we think that your skids are nicked.

    Excuse me sir, we would just like to take your DNA to see if you are a criminal..

    (Knock knock) excuse me sir, I couldn't help noticing that your front door was locked and we just wanted to take a look around your house to see if we could find any stolen items.

    (BANG BANG SMASH) Get on the floor you fucker, something here is stolen and no fucker is going anywhere until we find it.

    (Nudges you awake at night) Take him away.

    How is this not fishing? The police should respond to actual complaints not go poking around in peoples lives.

  26. RayDio
    Big Brother

    It's My Electronic Id and I'll hide it if I want to

    The more I think about this the sillier it is. The tiny little 2D barcode is easily "accidentally" scratched so as to be unreadable, and all phones give up their IMEI in response to a keyboard command anyway.

    Either this device is pure fiction, a la television detector van, or, as Neil 4 says, the Met have been taken for mugs.

    Alternatively, It may be an excuse to spend some time alone with a suspect's phone extracting the call logs under the pretext of checking to see if it's stolen.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Re: *#06#

    Presently thieves have to forge the *#06. This for many phone models is trivial and there are plenty of programs to do that floating around the black market. As a result, there are plenty of phones where the IMEI in the flash is forged, while the one on the phone is not.

    So much for 48 hours to disable the phone.

    Anyway, all this will do is to make people destroy the IMEI label on the phone. Not having an IMEI sticker is not a crime so the police will not be able to proudly demonstrate phone recovery statistics for very long.

  28. teacake

    @Dominic Contardi

    "Still, why not go the whole hog and tattoo barcodes on the back of all citizens' necks for checking against the Good Law Abiding Citizens Thought Crimes Database?"

    Because that's where they record a bishop's diocese.

  29. Andy 99

    RE: *#06#

    Plod: "Hexcuse me young lad whip out that battery so I may scan your IMEI barcode with my mighty barcode scanner with lightening bolt stickers and my taser strapped to it."

    Me: "Ok."

    Plod: "Hmm the IMEI sticker isn't there..."

    Me: "Yeah it fell off, sorry about that."

    Plod: "Ah ha! Put in the battery so I can type *#60# so I can catch you, you thieving ignoramus!"

    Me: "Ok."

    Plod: "Ah right, could you enter your security pin please?"

    Me: "I've forgot it right now, sorry about that."


  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Post justification fishing

    So you stop them for terrorism purposes and then justify it by seeing what you can prosecute for? Treat people like criminals and you remove the benefit of not being a criminal. This is a petty crime and no justification for random stop and search.

    The phones are blocked, and so to catch a person with a stolen phone, you'd have to catch them in the small window of opportunity just after the steal and before they stash it away (it cannot be used, so no point in carrying it as a phone). Random stop and search would not work in that case. Far more effective would be to raid second hand shops and the houses of known thieves to.... oh wait, that's what you did to get the 450 phones... it's just being recast as justification for misuse of stop and search terrorist powers!

    How about you just take the random stop and search powers out of this, and instead go and raid second hand stores and the houses of known thieves, or simply track the stolen phone to its location and search that location instead of blocking them. You know, police work, warrants, searches, arrests,.... alien concepts in the UK it seems?

    Also that Apollo unit is most likely a local micro hub, which means it scans the code by radio and it also means that the rozzers have a device which can read local IMEI numbers off the phones of passers by. That has some serious privacy problems with it.

  31. skuba*steve

    Insert Title Here

    Of course, on the flip side if the oik who just cut me up at the lights and nearly made me crash subsequently gets a stop/search, and in the course of checking his car for drugs/guns/hoors they find a stolen mobile to add to the charges...I'd be pleased :)

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Might be useful with muggers and pickpockets

    shifty looking geezer on Oxford Circus watching the tourists. Bumps into one or two a la the Real Hustle but is noticed by keen-eyed plod

    "Excuse me, sir? ....are these all your phones?....

  33. The Beer Monster

    @Anonymous Coward 14:51

    "Anyway, all this will do is to make people destroy the IMEI label on the phone. Not having an IMEI sticker is not a crime so the police will not be able to proudly demonstrate phone recovery statistics for very long."

    It might not be now, but give it a week...

  34. Justabloke 1
    Thumb Down

    re #06#

    I have a phone that has been heavily tampered with by Orange. entering the code above simply displays a message asking me to try again.

    I lived and grew up in ealing, it used to be such a sensible place.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters



    I suspect that most of the "stop & search" recovery are when they stop and search individual matching the description of the owner of the phone, a few minutes after being called.

    At that point the color of the t-shirt is probably far more useful than the IMEI number, as this one won't be in the Recipero database for at least a few hours.

    On the other hand any IMEI not triggering the Recipro db will be added next to your details in the Met database (only if you are driving a car, otherwise you have no obligation to give out your details).

    About time to distribute "Stop&Search / Your rights cards" all around... Time to react!

  36. Suburban Inmate

    Phone registration by force, at last!

    "Steve" is a nice law abiding chap, with a young family and good job.

    Steve likes his privacy.

    Steve has an unregistered SIM + handset.

    Steve is harassed by one of the prick coppers falling behind on his arrest targets. (There are a few good ones left, despite the government's best efforts)

    Steve's phone is scanned, and thanks to a recent amendment to the IMEI scanning law all his dialled and incoming phone numbers are trawled for naughty people, as well as mined for suspect call patterns.

    Now Steve needs a new SIM and handset to maintain his privacy.

  37. Eden


    I suppose the problem with typing in the IMEI is the plod then has to manually enter it into their device and records (Imagine having your phone confiscated for a fat fingered plod making a typo!)

    I have a Blackberry Storm and I'm often on call, with all the security encryption and policies on it rebooting it is a 20 minute job and when I drop it and the battery falls out it's VERY annoying.

    That said if the IMEI sticker is gone and a user forgets their blackberry password (happens a lot!) what then? do they get arrested and hauled down the nick or forced to enter the incorrect password 5 times to wipe the device (2 hour job) so they can then get in and check the IMEI?

    Will it be like not handing over encryption keys? default 3 years in jail?

    Interesting times.

    At least I now have a use for the 349 old phones in our cupboard! if I see them doing this in London I may just keep walking past in my tench coat and with a big bag until the stop me and have to scan em all :)

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Spare me a thought....'ll be rubber glove time for me!

    I don't own a mobile, me and the other 4 people on the planet who don't own one, will be marched down the cop-shop and questioned for 4 hours about failure to produce a mobile on demand! Then a quick cavity search to make sure I'm not lying!

    Another question, does this include mobile broadband sticks too? They have IMEI codes on them, I usually carry a laptop with a PAYG MB stick, so I am well and truly stuffed!

  39. Jeremy 2

    Re: Steve Evans

    "Sure it looks suspicious, but we still have innocent until proven guilty in this country..."

    Sir, you should warn us before you type something so funny it makes me laugh loudly in front of co-workers.

  40. Chris King

    There's something they've forgotten...

    A copper with a phone in one hand and a barcode reader in the other can't smack chummy with his truncheon, or whip out his taser. Advantage crims.

    How long before the PCC has to deal with complaints of people being beaten senseless with a barcode reader ?

    Mine's the one with the barcode printer in the left pocket, ta...

  41. Gordon Ross Silver badge

    @*#06# & @IMEI

    #06# doesn't work on my Crackberry. (But you can get to the IMEI by other means on a Crackberry)


    How Kind Of You Officer Not To Touch Me With Hands

    Poor people... How happened that you let it go in London? Though, guess, how much time will it take for the technology to spread over Europe? The funny side is that when you are already used to it, thousands of devices will be mounted on every block as stationary cells. A Global System of Stolen Property Search/GSSPS (-; Why not to use two frequencies and build a RFID coverage?



  43. Anonymous Coward

    Here is a contraversial opinion

    Maybe this will be of some use in the fight against crime and make a positive difference to the lives of Londoners......

    .....mines the one with the missing mobile....

  44. Bad Beaver
    Big Brother

    And I thought the madness was at peak level already

    I won't share all my data (and they can't tell me there will be no registration and tracking) just because some plod thinks gave him a funny look. Why don't they just put a sign that say "stay away!". Nuckin' futs. At some point, someone must have messed up terrorist/tourist, and since it's too embarrassing to admit that by now they simply go all the way – till even the last tourist is exterminated.

  45. Glen 1

    i for one...

    approve of the new mobile register.

  46. Petrea Mitchell

    The problem with removing the barcode... that this will quickly become recognized evidence that you have something to hide and are therefore a criminal.

    Now, if you were to print out a brand new label with a barcode of a known non-stolen phone...

  47. Fred Flintstone Gold badge
    Black Helicopters

    @ Check the barcode?

    Printing barcodes is absolutely trivial, and I'm willing to bet the scanner isn't limited to a specific type so you can make a mess of it. Just add an extra digit to the barcord which you don't put on the visible IMEI and it'll probably keel over.

    This could be fun if they try this one on me. I'm a foreigner, and live in another country than my nationality. I could kick such a diplomatically complex stink it'll cost them months to sort it out, and I'd enjoy every second of it.

    Quote Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

    Do you feel lucky, punk? Mwhoohahahahahaaa...

  48. Peter Gray

    Sounds scary

    Thank heavens i live in New Zealand where we have very little of this sort of rot.

    I have to say the more I read of this sort of thing the less I desire to visit Blighty - I think I'll stay here in the sunshine instead.

  49. Argus Tuft

    unregistered SIMs?

    a long time ago they made it mandatory here for full ID to get even a pre-paid SIM. No (legal) anonymous phones.

    on the other hand they don't block stolen ones. If you were suspicious that might be because the people with stolen phones are ones who don't want you to know who they are.. hence they are the ones the black-helicopter boys are interested in...

  50. Derek Foley


    In fact, removing the sticker won't help the thieves, as the IMEI number is actually stored in the phone OS, and by simply typing *#06# on the handset will confirm it.

    Like most kit, there are ways to avoid this I don't want to tell the "perps" how, as remember they use the net too - lets not hand the info on a plate to them!

    Hopefully stuff like this will make phone theft a thing of the past

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Did you know that...

    ... it is against the law to remove the IMEI sticker from the back of your mobile phone?

  52. Anonymous Coward

    So will this affect criminals - really?

    Found from

    So now that handsets are blacklisted on all networks what do the criminals do to get around this? They find ways to change handset IMEI numbers! Home Secretary David Blunkett introduced a new law making re-programming IMEI numbers punishable by up to five years in jail. This is in the Mobile Phones (Reprogramming) Act 2002. This new law became active on the 4th October 2002 . (this new law does not effect handset unlocking).

    Never the less it is possible to change IMEI numbers on certain handsets. So if an individual obtains a blacklisted handset, they can change the IMEI number and the handset will then work again!!


    So they never learn. People can just change the IMEI number. After all they have stolen the phone so committing other crimes isn't really going to bother them is it?

  53. This post has been deleted by its author

  54. Andus McCoatover

    Removing the sticker. Not a good idea.

    According to the Criminal Justice and Public Order* Act 1994, wouldn't that be a part of the 'right to silence' by invoking which, a court may infer....guilt?

    Oh, England, my England. How I weep for You sometimes. Now, for instance. I'm ashamed to admit to having been born there.

    *It's not Law and Order. It's only about Order - Uniformity. One day, anyone wearing a baseball hat back-to-front will automatically be labelled as a perp.

    [Which is how I wore my skull-and-crossboned cap on "International-talk-like-a-Pirate-day§" Wore a plastic cutlass in my belt, (and an eye patch,stripey T-shirt and taped an easter chick on my shoulder. "That isn't a parrot" "It's got 'flu. It'll get better, HAAARRRGH!") and wandered the main square area in Oulu, Finland, scaring children shitless and the rozzers here just laughed at/with me. In UK, I'd have got nicked!]


  55. Anonymous Coward

    At this rate...

    ... we're all about 18 months from being tattooed/RFID chipped and obliged to itemise (via a private database) all items of property we own. Possessing naughty items/items not on your personal list/borrowed items/not having items you state you carry but which might be useful in making a bomb (or getting stones out of horses hooves) will make you liable to all sorts of trendy New Labour punishments, a generally stern finger wagging and a guaranteed appearance on ITVs new late night hit "look who's been carrying/not carrying things around" in which someone with a vaguely Sean Bean-like voice sarcastically suggests you're getting what you deserve. You bloody deviant.

    They'd deploy an arsehole scanner only there'd be too many false positives from the coppers carrying it.

  56. Sillyfellow

    verify ID ?

    for this to work the 'suspect' (lol), would have to verify who they are. i'm a bit confused here since i understand that law says i don't have to identify myself (and indeed can remain completely silent), nor is it mandatory (yet) to carry ID... oh, i forget, that is 'suspicious' behaviour. bzzzzzzt march march clink.

    as previously pointed out, wouldn't it be so much simpler for any reported stolen or lost phone to just be blocked from the networks. i know that this can be done, but isn't. why?

    anyhows, my point is that state harassment on your 'person' will escalate, pushing you towards the ultimate goal of just implanting a chip in each and every 'registered person TM'. that way everything is logged and all 'good citizen' monitoring (and control) is easy.

    PS. fact: when you 'register' something you are literally and legally giving over ownership. you, your children and everything you (think you) own is registered to, and therefore owned by the state. legalese anyone? wake up and smell the coffee people.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Stop and fish.

    Has anyone considered doctoring their phone such that it breaks when Constable nobhead tries to open it?

    You broke my phone and I'd like a new one, please. Come on, come on, pay up, I haven't got all day.

    Anyway police don't have carte-blanche to do what the fuck they like. Believe it or not they operate under a code of practice, which code of practice gives examples of what counts as reasonable suspicion. "Having a phone" is not one such example.


    A summary of which legalistic guff is (cf.

    "There must be some basis for the officer’s belief, related to you personally, which can be considered and evaluated by an objective third person. Mere suspicion based on hunch or instinct might justify observation but cannot justify a search."

    A hunch such as "Well lots of people around here have stolen phones" isn't good enough; they much have a bloody good idea that /you/ have a stolen phone.

    No suspicion, no search. No likee? Take it up with my solicitor: here's his number. Good-day, cunstable.

  58. Sillyfellow

    re: Mosh Jahan

    .. Josh has a point.

    "The cops are hardly going to stop everyone. They will likely use some profile to target individuals so it's not going to be any real inconvenience to the general public.

    If it helps to reduce theft crimes, it's a good thing."

    thing is that what ever kind of 'profiling' they use is bound to be discriminatory, and the fact is that anybody at all *might* have bad intentions. how someone looks, walks or dresses (or how ugly or tall, hehe), can never determine their intentions. the mere idea is simply ridiculous.

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