Cell Phone Serials

Scribe sent me this. It sort of makes you wonder who the NYPD is sharing this database with cell phone serial numbers with, doesn’t it?

The NYPD is amassing a database of cell phone users, instructing cops to log serial numbers from suspects’ phones in hopes of connecting them to past or future crimes.


A recent internal memo says that when cops make an arrest, they should remove the suspect’s cell phone battery to avoid leakage – then jot down the International Mobile Equipment Identity number.

The IMEI number is registered with the service provider whenever a call is made.

And that data could allow a detective to match, for example, a cell phone used by one suspect to a phone used by another.


The cell phone information joins another database of more than 20 million 911 callers that the NYPD has been building. It has paid off.

In one case involving a 911 call, detectives solved a burglary pattern after the suspect left a slip of paper with his cell number on it at a crime scene, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said.

8 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    I don’t wonder a bit.

    Boxturtle (I’ll go with “any government agency that asks” for $100, Alex)

  2. alabama says:

    Since this is never going to stop–in fact it’s hardly started–maybe our only hope is to open up the database like a wheel of swiss cheese, for all and sundry to enter and exit at will….

  3. pajarito says:

    Hmmmm, the possibilities: Get NYPD Finest down to Wall Street, record the financial CEO and executive’s IMEI numbers for any infraction (jaywalking, DUI, soliciting prostitutes, etc.), then crunch the connections and call times to say…Tim Geithner, Goldman Sachs Execs, AIG Execs, etc.

    Maybe, just maybe, we can find the crooks who looted the federal treasury.

  4. JohnJ says:

    Remember all cell phones sold after 2005 have a GPS built in for “911 use”. Basically only the cops can access it.

    I find it interesting how many bad guys leave stuff like wallets and cell phone numbers at crime scenes. Does this serendipitous evidence get used in court where it is able to be questioned, or does it fall into the background after all the evidence they get as a result?

    I watched the cops do that to my daughter. They did a questionable search and found some contraband. I questioned their search at the scene so they slipped the note about the finding into a the comment stage of a minor charge she went to court for later. Pretty slick since no one got to question how they “found” it.

    I should qualify that I don’t live in the regular US, I live in (third world) Florida.

  5. tejanarusa says:

    But the memo says to remove the battery “to avoid leakage?”
    Sounds like the definition of a pretext to me.

  6. Hmmm says:

    Removing the battery to prevent leakage would only make sense if the detainee was going to be in custody for several hours. I bet there are handheld devices LE folks can use to snoop the IMEI from the phone’s communications with the cell towers — the IMEI is included in that traffic stream — so there is probably no real need to remove the battery just to get the IMEI.

    But there may be other motivations for removing the battery. In addition to revealing the printed IMEI, it would also have the effect of sending all incoming calls to voicemail where they could, one presumes, be listened to via the mobile carrier and a warrant. Another effect would be that any possibility of the mobile carrier auto-tracking the movement of the phone (via the embedded GPS) would be defeated — making it easier to move the detainee and phone anywhere desired without leaving an evidence trail… no possibility of police abuse there, no siree.

  7. freepatriot says:

    actually, I wonder about the faulty logic displayed in this reasoning:

    when cops make an arrest, they … jot down the International Mobile Equipment Identity number.


    In one case involving a 911 call, detectives solved a burglary pattern after the suspect left a slip of paper with his cell number on it at a crime scene

    to me, that says “we’re collecting apples, because one time we found an orange and solved a case”

    it doesn’t make sense

    they’re collecting IMEI numbers because they found a PHONE NUMBER

    I know criminals who use cell phones, and they don’t buy them in their own names

    never heard of a counterfeit phone ???

    there are several ways to get around this

    • Hmmm says:

      That’s an excellent point, freep. IMEI is orthogonal to phone number. Phone number sits in a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card which can be removed and inserted in other phones. So one handset (with fixed IMEI number) can be associated with any number of different phone numbers, one at a time, by inserting different SIM cards. And for the same reason one fixed phone number can be associated with any number of handsets/IMEIs over time.

      Huh. The SIM card is usually behind the battery too, near the IMEI number. If they remove the battery ostensibly to write down the IMEI, that would be an opportunity to access the SIM card. You might want to copy the SIM card to get the stored contacts book and maybe call history. You might want to swap the SIM card for a different one for some reason. You might want to modify the contents of the SIM card — set some secret flag that causes the carrier to start hoovering calls made from that phone? It seems like there is a lot of room for abuse in accessing a SIM card.

      [BTW there are some qualifications to that IMEI/SIM interchangeability, i.e. some mobile networks won’t accept some handsets that originated with different carriers (’locked phones’).]

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