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How Saudi government, others can find people with IMEI tracking

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An INSIDER investigation has revealed Saudi Arabia is tracking down women who run away — often fleeing abuse— by using their cell phone IMEI number.

Although rarely used outside of the realms of crime, national security, and armed conflict, the technique is possible to use to find almost any mobile device.

Every cell phone has an International Mobile Equipment Identity number, or IMEI. They are 15 digits long, and no two are the same. Contained within the numbers are details of the make and model of the device.

It’s a bit like a serial number. Disguised within the 15-digit pattern is the make and model of your phone.

IMEI numbers are commonly written on the SIM tray or behind the battery pack of a cellphone. On the iPhone 6S and earlier models, it’s located on the bottom end on the back.

When you make a phone call, use data, or send a text, your IMEI number is included in the information transmitted to cell towers, and is available to your network operator — a company like Vodafone or AT&T.

The IMEI number is often printed in the SIM tray.
Shutterstock

Most of the time, the number is not used for anything beyond providing the signals your phone needs to work.

However, police, intelligence agencies, and the military can use the number to track a phone to a given location.

Usually this only happens when a phone has been stolen and police are trying to locate it. It can also be used by security agencies to track and hunt terrorists.

Read more: Saudi Arabia runs a huge, sinister online database of women that men use to track them and stop them from running away

One women fleeing Saudi Arabia, who spoke to INSIDER, reported how Saudi intelligence worked with police in the country of Georgia to get hold of her IMEI number.

French soldiers check the IMEI number of a mobile phone during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Inaloglog
Reuters

Another Saudi woman reported how Saudi agents came to her family home and demanded the box her phone was sold in, which has the IMEI written on it.

Some phones have IMEI numbers which can be reprogrammed, though it’s a crime to do that in countries like the US or India.

Read more: Saudi Arabia is trying to execute an 18-year-old who has been in prison for years over a protest on his bicycle when he was 10

The IMEI for a phone remains the same even if the SIM card is changed.

A woman watches YouTube on her Samsung phone.
Robert Alexander / Getty

The processes and software with which an IMEI number is used to produce a location is not clear.

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