back to article Spain cuts off 3m pre-pay mobiles

Spanish mobile operators last night cut off an estimated three to four million pre-pay mobile phones whose owners had not followed government instructions to register their devices. The mandatory scheme - in which all pre-pay mobiles have to be assigned to an ID document - was a reaction to the terrorist attacks of 11 March …


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  1. peter garner


    what if the terrorists come from outside Spain and bring their own PAYG mobiles with them? Surely that will bypass the whole "security" exercise?

  2. Neal 5

    I'm not sure it matters.

    Seems like the populace have voted with their feet. Perhaps a few mistimed their credit allownce and had like 0.5 of a euro left on their phones.

    The big loser will be the Spanish Govt, who in 6 months time, will have to bail out three mobile phone operators on the brink of bankruptcy.

    When will politicians ever learn who works for who.

  3. David 45


    Better keep that under your hat - Mandelson might get some ideas.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    What a surprise

    Cutting of 3 million people seems remarkably bone-headed; they must have known before pulling the plug that they were going to be screwing up a *lot* of people's lives.

    As someone who never bothered to register my now quite old phone, and who lost the box about 1 week after purchase, I would not have a clue how to register it and would not see how registering a 4 year old phone could counter terrorism in any event. By contrast, making it impossible to co-ordinate the pickup of my kids from school, or phone the AA in the event of a breakdown, does seem quite obviously likely to cause problems. Multiply the mayhem by 3,000,000 and one wonders who might reasonably be branded 'terrorists' today.

    Someone needs to tell these people that there is not a lifetime career to be made out of thinking up ever more restrictive ways to 'combat' terrorism. You've done your job, now bugger off and let us lead normal lives.

    /Grenade before El Reg gets raided for posessing weapons

  5. Not Fred31

    good job mobiles can't be stolen

    they can't be stolen, right?

  6. Anonymous Coward


    I understand why the authorities would want to do this.

    There is presumably no secondary market in phones in Spain, e.g. no eBay, no sunday markets?

    OK I realise it then becomes incumbent on the original owner to prove their innocence, but y'know what I mean, right?

  7. Sceptical Bastard

    Won't be long...

    ... before Brown and his gobshite home secretary Alan 'Sack Dissenters' Johnson pick up on the Spanish scheme and outlaw anonymous pay-as-you-go mobes here in the UK. In fact, I'm surprised they haven't done so already on the spurious basis that "only the guilty have anything to hide", a policy dear to the hearts of the commuter fascists who read the Daily Mail.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    3 million

    That's a lot of chavs and crims! :D

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Excellent news, bring it to the UK next please!

    Wow, a government with some balls. Very good move, and I praise them.

    I think it is rather nice to give them 6months extra.

    And for those that are wondering about the poor users - well if they are too stupid to follow advice that has one goal (save them from terrorists), tuff.

  10. jonathan 3

    I'm curious

    How many people did register?

    I mean, the popualtion of Spain is about 35-40m. So they just cut-off about 8-9% of the population!

    Whats the "uptake" on pre-pay phones?10-15% of the total pop.? Or am I missing something?

  11. Jean-Paul


    Wish the UK government would do something like that instead of faffing about. They've done a lot of marketing in Spain about this and yet people still didn't register...So let this be a nice and clear warning message...Bet lots of people now will register...

  12. Anton Ivanov

    How many of these are tourists?

    I used to keep a set of SIMs for Spain. One of them is probably still valid and has a few EU of credit on it...

    In fact, I even have an old Nokia 6xxx series from a rather unlucky trip where all of us forgot our chargers and found out that the Spanish telecoms operators have eliminated Samsung from their gestalt. All and every single one of them. And that is not supposed to be a cartel practice ya know... It just happened... Suddenly... Without them agreeing between themselves...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wouldnt normally agree at all, BUT.......

    have got to say that if I was wanting to curb terrorism and crime then I would do exactly the same, i.e. cut off PAYG phones that are not registered. The problem is when the Governments say "This Act will only be used for serious terrorist crimes"... (i.e. RIPA) and then they let Councils use the same Act for catching owners of dogs that foul and those that register children at schools out of their actual catchment areas , THAT then means that we do not trust the Governments AT ALL. So they have cut their own throats as I now see Politicians as no more than liars and cheats.

  14. Sampler

    3 million - /really/?

    How did they work out this three mllion figure? Is it simply the number of phones on there register as unkown users - in which case, simply sold - because that doesn't translate to 3 million users.

    How many have bought pre-pay phones then gone contract when they found themselves spending tons and wanting the latest shiny gizmo their mates got, old phone goes in the drawer/trash.

    Or similar stories to the above - what I'd like is a figure on how many individual numbers have tried to make calls and got the recorded message now it's inplace - maybe a few hundred?

    And those will probably be vulnerable groups such as the elderly who don't know how to register it.

  15. RainForestGuppy

    Re: Peter Garner

    All mobile devices have an International Mobile equipment Identity number. My guess is that you had to register that and if you didn't then it got cut off. If the mobile operators networks are now set to block PAYG devices that haven't had the IMEI number registered then phones brought in wouldn't work.

    I'm not sure how that would effect anybody with a UK PAYG phone travelling to spain. Not sure if you can roam with a PAYG phone as I've never used one.

    Anton Ivanov, try They are the spanish equivalent of Carphone Warehouse in the UK and have hundreds of stores. According to their website they sell 59 different Samsung models on Orange and Vodafone.

  16. The Original Ash

    In 6 months time...

    ... Everyone will be in the same boat; Not registering.

    Cutting off 3m customers is pretty hard core. Let's see if they have the nerve to actually do it for real.

  17. Skizz

    A logical extreme

    Terrorists make plans by talking to each other. Therefore, to stop future terrorist plots we must stop people from talking to one another.

  18. Bassey

    Might not be used

    I probably have half a dozen PAYG SIM cards with various different retailers. I don't like contracts and usually find it is a lot cheaper to buy a new phone, discounted on PAYG, and then stick my own SIM card in it. As a result, I have quite a lot of SIM cards that have never been used or I've just used them until the few quid credit that came on them has been used up.

    Most of the network will give you £50-ish off the SIM free price of a phone by getting it PAYG.

  19. Monty Cantsin

    3m phones is not 3m people

    I'd say most of those phones aren't in use any more, so I doubt that a significant chunk of the population has just had their mobile access cut.

    That said, this measure doesn nothing for security. IMEI numbers can be spoofed, phones can be stolen or bought second hand, or smply brought in from a country that doesn't have manditory registration.

    And in reply to Anonymous Coward @12.54, I don't see how not having your box would prevent you from registering. Walk into mobile phone store with mobile and ID, and job done.

  20. Tim Bergel

    UK PAYG phones

    certainly used to work in Spain back in September, I await my return at Christmas with interest.

  21. Bayleaf

    I approve, but am not sure why they want to do this

    I mean, if you set off a bomb using a mobile phone, then how much of the phone will be left to identify who's it was? Seems like an excuse to get all the phones registered to me.

  22. jackharrer

    More interesting

    First of all I suppose they meant registering the SIM CARDS not phones. Phones are irrelevant, anyway, can be easily swapped.

    Second is that they need to tie SIM no to ID card no. How many illegals are in Spain? Half of South America ;) All them are without IDs. That was also part of the problem - hard to register if you don't have ID card.

    Third - as mentioned before, how many of those SIMs are still in use? I have like 10 lying around at home, some from O2, they posted to me, some from some PAYG phones I bought and sent abroad, etc.

    I suppose fallout will not be so big as expected. Most people would be able to register, if they choose to, while illegals have no voice anyway...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @ the original ash

    Did you read the story? they HAVE cut off three million PAYG phones, they have just agreed to re-instate those who register in the next 6 months

  24. Britt Johnston

    a proper (right-wing) solution...

    would be to allow ex-directory numbers at a hefty fee. That would keep out terrorists, who are misguided, unwashed and poor.

  25. NogginTheNog


    ...go the operators at the thought of trousering all that unclaimed credit ;-)

    Of course I wonder how many of these numbers are for long-dead handsets, or even purchased for the fancy model that was punted at the time as a sweetener, with the card never activated? I think for many people mobiles are almost disposable, with older ones simply being discarded (numbers and handsets) when a newer shinier deal catches their eye!

  26. bertie bassett

    Immigration ploy?

    ok so the bombing's were pretty horrendous, but it could also be a bit of an immigration ploy. Quite a number of illegals working in Madrid & Barca and other cities as maids/pool boys and other manual work. If you get a maid thru an agency you even get asked whether you want a legal (costs more) or illegal. No doubt they don't rush to register theri phones

    Better shutup b4 nulab get anymore ideas - although here we arrest illegals and then let them go again

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Neal 5

    those 3 telco's now have €25 million profit (pre pay phones remember) and now won't need to provide a telephone/SMS service for them. The Spanish gov't will welcome the extra profit since they get their cut via taxes on the telco. Win-win for all except the public.

  28. Jolyon Ralph
    Thumb Down

    The sad reality

    is that we'll probably see cash outlawed within our lifetimes making chip & pin purchases mandatory so that Govt can track all our purchases and keep us safe from terrorist pedophile tax evaders.

  29. Nev

    Nothing to do with 9/11

    In most European countrys, having to register your identity(card) to get a mobile phone of any description has been the case for at least the last 10 years.

    Mass cut-offs occured in France ~10 years ago when the law came in.

  30. RichyS

    But what does this achieve exactly?

    So, how exactly is this going to stop terrorism? Terrorists have a very nasty habit of not really obeying the rules. So, I can't see them wandering to the local Telefonic store to register and buy a PAYG mobile. Neither can I see them quaking in their boots in Tora Bora, thinking 'Oh well, that's Spain off the todo list then...'. Unless Spain stops PAYG SIMs roaming (and a hundred thousand chavs a year on holiday say otherwise), there's nothing to stop a foreign SIM (say, Portuguese -- that would be convenient) being used.

    And RainForestGuppy -- I'm not sure what IMEI has to do with anything. That's the unique ID for the handset -- nothing to do with the SIM (which is what gets cut off). Maybe you mean IMSI...

  31. Anonymous Coward


    How many of these phone numbers and SIM cards - we are talking about users, phone numbers and SIM cards here and not actual phones - belong to holiday makers who have bought a cheap pay-as-you-go phone on holiday to make and recieve phone calls or use mobile internet etc without getting bashed for excessive roaming charges when abroad.

    If the phone is unlocked they can put the SIM in their own phone or if not they can just use the new handset.

    My guess is that as these users dont live in spain and probably use their spanish phone maybe once a year when on holiday many of these phone accounts will never be identified and so will never be reconnected.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Wonderfully well thought out

    I like how the Spanish governmnet (and selected fellow commentards) elect to ignore the obvious, namely that illicit acquiring of phones registered to someone else is not hard at all. Plenty of people won't even notice their phone got stolen for long enough to commit serious fraud, blow up a building, what-have-you. All it does is cause more people --those who didn't notice the theft and hobbled off to the local police with all required numbers and identity papers fast enough-- to get marked down as "terrorists" when in fact they are victims.

    Well done chaps. Very well done indeed. This way you'll fix that entire terrorism thing in no time flat. Carry on government.

  33. pixel
    Thumb Down


    @Sampler, @Monty Cantsin, @NogginTheNog,

    believe it or not, the mobile phone operators actually have the ability to see whether a phone is in use or not. Therefore there is a very good chance that these were 3 million active (i.e. switch on and connected to the network) devices.

    My PAYG is anonymous, not because of any desire to do anything naughty, but because there are enough people out there with my details that I want to retain some communication method where I at least stand a fighting chance of not being harassed.

  34. Anonymous Coward


    How does this work for children? The under 16's aren't normally in posession of state approved ID, never mind the under 10's. And most of the little darlings, in this country at least, have mobiles.

    Ignoring the fact that a lot of criminals seem to have access to the sort of false ID that would pass by the monkeys working in Phones4U.

  35. JohnG

    Illegal Immigrants

    Like someone else said, it is the SIM cards and associated phone numbers that have been cut off, not the phones.

    One of the key benefits of this move is to make life rather more difficult for illegal immigrants. You need ID and an address to register the SIM. This is similar to Germany, where all kinds of simple things need valid ID with a proven address, making life very difficult for anyone who is not legally registered in the country.

    Re: Stolen phones: So if your mobile is stolen, would you just let the "new owner" use your number and your credit or would you contact the phone company and get them to cancel the SIM?

  36. John Sanders

    Am I the only one...

    Who feels more and more controlled each day, and less and less protected?

    Nowadays it seems the only thing governments in Europe can do is to restrict our privacy and rights a little bit more each passing day, all in the name of our security, our heatlh or whatever greater good they can think of.

  37. Vincent Ballard

    From experience

    To answer some of the questions above: I registered my Spanish PAYG with nothing more than the SIM card (presumably some number written on it) and my passport. Proof of address was not required.

    The idea isn't to prevent terrorism but to help post-bombing investigations. It's security theatre along the same lines as X-raying shoes. In the case of shoes it's a response to Richard Reid; in the case of registering PAYG phones it's a response to the fact that after the 11-M Madrid bombings tracking down the owner of a mobile phone led to the terrorists' flat.

  38. moylan

    dumb move

    all they are doing is creating an underclass. many of these people will not register. it's not worth the hassle.

    i have no id, passport or driving licence. i don't travel and i don't drive. here in ireland you need 1 of these documents to create a bank account. in the 80's the government brought in similar laws to prevent terrorist groups like the ira from money laundering activities. did it stop the ira? not a chance.

    however about 10% of the adult population in ireland don't have access to banking facilities. no credit cards, loans or savings.

    all they are doing is punishing the innocent for the sake of catching a few bad guys.

  39. mark l 2 Silver badge

    2nd hand market

    So how long before some of the registered sims get sold on the 2nd hand market, (ebay, car boots etc) when people upgrade their phones.

    Unless they require the registered owners of the sim to re-register their sim every year it wont be long before the database of registered sims is out of date as lots will just get sold on to other people.

    Im sure determined terroists will still be able to get hold of anon phones or just build some other radio detinator out of parts from the local electronics store and set of their bombs that way

  40. Daniel B.
    Big Brother

    I'm about to see this soon over here...

    ... as a similar law passed this April in Mexico. The difference is that the cut-off day has been widely publicized. If you buy a new PAYG or enter a new contract, you have to ID yourself and register. If you're an existing customer, well, you can register via SMS giving some personal details. (Of course, there is a possibility for abuse here, as the stuff you get asked for is full name and DOB.) The thing you actually register is your SIM card, and/or the cell number itself in case you're one of the poor sods stuck on CDMA networks.

    Oh, and it is similarly easy to UNregister your cellphone, so you can do precisely that when you sell the handset. Second-hand mobile markets are strong over here, so this was an important thing to have.

    I still don't trust my government, but it is either registering, or no mobile at all.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    If I had one of these phones

    I'd wear out the keyboard repetitively calling their emergency numbers night and day until I felt like I'd gotten my money's worth.

  42. Private_Person
    Black Helicopters

    State registered tracking devices

    This has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism as even the most stupid terrorist will be able to circumvent the law. What it means is that ordinary citizens now carry state registered tracking devices.

    I have a few Spanish SIMS, some for different tariffs and some for privacy, and had no trouble finding people to register them for a small fee. Remember never to have more than one SIM registered by the same person.

    PS: IMEI numbers on some older models of phone can be altered by software and older SIMS can also be cloned quite easily.

  43. Daniel Garcia 2


    in Spain you get your ID card at 14, and before that there is a booklet document (Family Book) similar to a passport which contain the parents and siblings personal details, which is use as identification document for children.

    you can get your passport at any age and is like 5 times cheaper than in UK.

  44. Anonymous Coward

    Terrorists WIN

    Another example of how terrorists have won. I thought only the UK government was this stupid.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Don't ID cards solve this?....:)

    One of the reasons for ID cards is to stop terrorist activity, actually I thought they would stop any form of terrorism the moment they were introduced.

    As several people have pointed out this system of registering SIMs just inconveniences ordinary people. Those that are intend on doing wrong will find a way round any system.

  46. Steve B

    Catching up with Orange

    Orange did that to me years ago and I still can't get my £15 credit back, worth a lot back at the turn of the century..

  47. Matthew 3

    How will this help?

    Are the Spanish seriously suggesting that terrorists will give up if they can't activate a bomb by mobile phone? I'm fairly sure that there are other methods of remotely triggering an explosive and, if I were that way inclined, can think of several effective alternatives.

    It would be more sensible for the Spanish government to compel network operators to keep detailed logs showing where each unregistered phone is at all times. Hey presto, tracking information for all of those people showing their movements. If the SIM isn't in use, it'll confirm it and anyone with a suspicious pattern of movements (phone only on near terrorist targets?) would be easy to identify.

    Instead, you inconvenience tourists and the procrastinators while giving the terrorists a reason to use a less-easily-tracked alternative firing mechanism...

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is a stupid idea, and won't help..

    ..I'd go so far as to say that UR SECURITY IS ZERO%

  49. Virtigo

    Hallo 3558729300816542897

    This happening everywhere. In Spain they say it is because of terrorism. Here in South Africa they tell us it is to curb crime. They force us to provide details of our identity AS WELL AS proof of where we stay otherwise we cannot can phone each other. They say only criminals will mind all this fuss. Just like they are telling people in Europe and the US that only terrorists will mind all this fuss. It is tracking and tracing.

    This is of course all ridiculous. They want to know all about your money (they already do), they want to know everything you say (they already do) and now lastly they want to know where you are and link you to the serial number of your phone. You have are busy becoming the serial number of your phone.

    Good bye 3558729300816542897 All the best to you.

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