Home Office calls for built-in security in phones

The next generation of smartphones must be made secure at the design stage, Home Secretary John Reid told an audience of leading business figures in New York, ahead of the launch of Apple's iPhone next week.

In the past eight years, mobile phone subscriptions have increased from 17 million to 72 million, according to Home Office figures. Every year, two per cent of such people have their phone stolen - 69 per cent because they left their handset unattended.

"I know that if the same level of human ingenuity and technical skill that brings such innovative, exciting products to the marketplace were applied to the problem of designing out crime, the results would be nothing short of revolutionary," Reid said. "We must grasp this exciting opportunity to nip crime in the bud and save millions of pounds by making anti-crime features as important as any other design element."

The idea of "designing out crime" has been used in the UK to cut down on car thefts. Improvements in access security and the development of engine immobilisers have helped cut vehicle crime by 51 per cent since 1997, the Home Office claimed.

"We are working closely with businesses to imagine how the gadgets of the future can be redesigned to be less tempting and less useful to thieves and criminals without making them any less desirable to law abiding consumers," Reid said.

At a meeting last month, the Home Office said it asked manufacturers to consider whether it's practical to shut phones down automatically when they're stolen, or to disable handset functions such as cameras or music players. As well, could handsets tell police where they are and should biometrics be used to secure them?

Such questions are likely to draw the same privacy criticisms as the Home Office's national identity scheme.

The Home Office said a formal advisory group will be formed later this year to look at the issues.