The Home Secretary Jack Straw is over reacting to figures that suggest mobile phones are being targeted by thieves and his facts are out of date. That is the message from BT Cellnet Wednesday reacting to Straw's announcement that he wants to meet mobile phone companies and the police in an attempt to reduce the number of handsets stolen.
Straw is concerned that a significant and rising proportion of street robberies appear to involve mobile phones, including attacks on children by other children. The Home Office cited British Crime Survey statistics which show a 14 percent rise in robberies between 1997 and 1999. Straw claims that 15,000 handsets are stolen each month in the UK, often in violent circumstances. "I am particularly concerned by emerging evidence that a major factor in this is the theft of mobile phones" he said in a statement.
But BT Cellnet, the UK's second largest network operator, says Straw's facts are out of date and that, contrary to Straw's implied message, the mobile phone industry does take all aspects of mobile phone security seriously.
A BT Cellnet spokeswoman told ZDNet: "Jack Straw shouldn't imply that mobile companies aren't talking and meeting to discuss this issue. We always have been, as we keep trying to stay one step ahead of the criminals. Perhaps he [Straw] needs to be put right."
Cellnet's spokeswoman said the problem of mobile phone theft is not as great as Straw suggests: "I would cast doubt on the suggestion that there is a great mobile phone crime wave. If you analyse the figures, I expect you would find that the mobile phone is rarely the primary target in a theft. Often people lose them when a briefcase or bag is stolen, or even when their car or home is burgled."
The spokeswoman added that figures quoted by the Home Office were up to nine years out of date -- specifically the figure of 15,000 mobiles being stolen each month in the UK.
The Home Office said: "Our figures are not our of date. The Home Office welcomes comments and suggestions from the mobile phone industry."
Security expert and Cambridge professor Ross Anderson does not believe mobiles are stolen simply for sale: "Many mobile thefts have nothing to do with the handset -- they're as good as free. The usual motive is to get a phone that's hard to trace, and can be used for a few calls", he said.
Anderson does not believe an easy solution is within reach. "I don't see much technical that could be done. You could perhaps have a hotline for kids to ring as soon as they've been mugged, then trace the call, you could also increase the sentences for muggers. It's all pretty marginal though".
ZDNet is currently waiting response from the Metropolitan Police which has indicated through its press office that BTCellnet's comments regarding mobile phone theft are inaccurate.
We will provide an update as soon as it is available.
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