London police want all phones to come with preset passcodes

London’s Metropolitan Police are apparently very keen on the idea of new mobile phones coming with passcodes out of the box – according to a Tuesday story in The Register, they’ve been lobbying phone manufacturers to include this feature for more than two years.

The purpose, of course, is to deter phone thieves and therefore cut down on criminal incidents. According to the article, internal police research shows three in five people don’t set up passcodes on their handsets at all. Services such as Apple’s Activation Lock have already shown how greater security measures reduce crime, and in the U.S. lawmakers recently got handset manufacturers to promise to include a kill switch.

The Met’s National Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) told me by email that it favored the passcode being switched on at the point of sale, “preferably set by the user to enhance security.” That’s good, because a generic number like 1111 would create the risk of people not bothering to change it, and thieves being able to easily guess it.

(This is similar to what happened in the big U.K. “phone-hacking” scandal – it wasn’t really hacking, but rather News Of The World reporters taking advantage of the fact that people don’t change the preset passwords for remotely accessing voicemail.)

“Research has suggested that people will be more likely to use a pin code to lock their phone if it was a feature that they had to opt out of as opposed to activating on their machines,” the NMPCU said.

I asked them how this system would work if you buy your handsets online, but their only response was that I should “please refer to the phone manufacturers” on this one.

This article was updated at 9am PT to include and discuss the Met’s favored approach to passcodes, and again on 20 August to note the response about referring to manufacturers.