Indonesia gov’t to block illegal cell phones with IMEI regulation starting August: official


Cell phones obtained outside of legally recognized means may soon no longer function in Indonesia as the government says it is poised to issue a regulation to curb the spread of illegal phones.

The Communication and Information Ministry (Kominfo) today said that, starting in August, phone users must register their 15-digit international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) — a unique code assigned to every SIM card slot a phone has — in order to remain connected to cellular networks in Indonesia. 

“Our target is that in August the regulation will be signed by three ministries, namely Kominfo, the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Industries,” Kominfo Resources, Information and Equipment Director General Ismail told CNN Indonesia today.

The government previously planned to enforce the IMEI regulation in late 2018, but has not been able to follow through on the plan as Ismail said they were still conducting trials for a system that detects illegal phones through IMEI codes.

If a phone is detected to be illegal and consequently blocked, no SIM card from any cellular operator will work with the phone in Indonesia (though the phone could still theoretically connect to the internet via Wi-Fi).

What the regulation essentially means is that cell phones purchased through official retailers in Indonesia — both physical and online — are theoretically exempt from getting blocked. Phones purchased on the black market either domestically or from abroad — i.e. those that don’t have IMEI codes registered with the Ministry of Industries — will not be able to connect to cellular networks in Indonesia.

That said, phones that were legally purchased abroad can be exempt from the block if they’re reported to authorities here, but they will be subject to additional tax. Users who already purchased black market phones before the enforcement of the IMEI regulation are also reportedly exempt from the regulation.

Black market phones, which can be considerably cheaper than their retail versions, are quite popular in Indonesia, with many of them sold online. A government estimate put the number of active black market phones in Indonesia at around 20%.

The last large scale cell phone regulation implemented by the government was the mandatory prepaid SIM card registration requirement, introduced in October 2017, which requires that each card be assigned to a user with a valid ID card in order to prevent criminal activities using disposable SIM cards. While the regulation saw the suspension of over 100 million prepaid SIM cards, the registration system still had its loopholes.

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