Any answers to mobile phone crime?
I've visited a number of places to discuss the latest innovations in the mobile phone industry, from Helsinki to California to Barcelona, but I never expected to make my way through the many layers of security into the Home Office to be shown some cutting edge technology.
I'd been invited to see the winning designs in a contest run by the Home Office and the Design Council. Three innovations aimed at making mobile phones less attractive to thieves - or useless if they are stolen - were on show.
The first was i-migo, a small device which you keep in your pocket and which sets off an alarm if your handset goes beyond a pre-set range. This sounds like it would be helpful to those of us who lose phones down the back of a sofa as well as protecting against theft.
The second, TouchSafe, is aimed at a future where our mobile phones will in effect become credit cards - a prospect that always seems just around the corner. This is a security card carried by a user who wants to make so called m-commerce transactions - you discreetly touch the phone against the card, much like using the Oyster travel card on London's transport system, and your purchase is authorised. I just wonder whether having to carry yet another card rather defeats the object of turning the mobile into an all-purpose payment device.
And finally there was Tie, a software solution which matches a handset to a SIM card and protects the data on the phone. This means that, if the phone is stolen, the criminal cannot insert a new SIM or mine your handset for data such as bank passwords. Clever - but just how many consumers will want to be bothered with something that only becomes useful after their phone is stolen?
Which brings us to the question of whose responsibility it is to fight mobile phone crime. When I spoke to the Minister for Crime Prevention, Alan Campbell, he wanted the mobile phone industry to play a bigger part. He cited the example of the car industry which apparently came up with a raft of innovations to help cut thefts by 60% over a decade - after a little light government persuasion involving threats to publish data on the most stealable cars.
And how big is the problem right now? Not that bad for the average mobile user according to the British Crime Survey, with around 2% reporting a theft in recent years - but much worse for young people, with nearly half of all victims of phone theft aged between 10 and 24. The government is concerned that the arrival of much smarter phones, containing valuable data and possibly mobile money capabilities, will lead to a spike in theft.
So it looks like mobile operators and handset makers can expect some arm-twisting to do more. But according to the government and to the Design Council, there's another motive for mobile firms to come up with innovative security ideas: "You've got an amazing opportunity," the Design Council boss David Kester told me. "Just a little bit of a nudge from the government and you see there is innovation out there, there are real ideas that can make money for British industry. Suddenly a problem that we the public all care about becomes an opportunity."
The ideas that I saw at the Home Office will be on display in Barcelona next week at the Mobile World Congress, the industry's biggest annual shindig. So then we might see whether there really is a market for making mobiles less thievable.