Duma Group Formed To Target Phone Theft

Taking cell phones off the list of the things most commonly stolen in Russia is the goal of a new State Duma working group, whose formation was announced on Monday.

Under the Duma's Information Policy Committee, the group is to formulate proposed legislation aimed at combating cell phone theft. Six separate legislative initiatives seeking to address the problem had been submitted from different regions.

"The current version of the bill does not entirely solve the problem, and we intend to bring the matter to an end with this working group," Vladimir Gorbachyov, head of the group and deputy chairman of the committee, said in a press release.

Eldar Murtazin, an analyst at Mobile Research Group, was positive about the inclusion of mobile operators in the working group, a first on the issue. He said that according to unofficial data, cell phone theft was the most widespread crime in Russia. Between 5 million and 6 million phones are stolen across the country every year, his research indicated. Further, only 10 percent of these thefts were reported, he estimated.

The Interior Ministry reported just 350,000 mobile phone thefts in 2007.

Murtazin said the black market in stolen handsets was very big. "It's very easy to use a stolen Russian cell phone," he said.

One possible solution would be to create a kind of blacklist of stolen International Mobile Equipment Identity numbers, which are unique to each phone, and block them.

A black list would be the best solution, in Murtazin's opinion, but the government and private operators would have to cooperate.

"Each operator would have to block this number, and there would have to be a law that you can't change this number," Murtazin said. He said that in Britain, changing the number can get an offender up to five years in prison.

Murtazin said the regulation of electronics markets would also help cut down on the number of thefts.

"If the law is changed, I estimate there would be around 1 million thefts in the first year. This is a pretty good number," he said.