LAHORE, Sept 11: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has begun compiling the data of ‘unverified’ SIMs from the cellular companies and the Pakistan Mobile Database Company as first step to block over four million such connections.
“We are keen to block unverified mobile phone connections and for the purpose we have asked the cell phone operators and the Pakistan Mobile Data Base Company to provide the PTA the data of such SIMs (subscriber identity module). The process of blocking these connections will begin shortly,” PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran told Dawn on Wednesday.
He said the subscribers should verify their status by sending their computerised national identity card (CINC) numbers to 668.
“We want to ensure that the number which is in the use of a genuine subscriber should not be blocked during the process,” Mr Mehran said.
The cellular companies on the direction of the PTA in the last PPP government in 2008-09 had blocked over 4.5 million unverified SIMS. After that the authorities concerned had come up with different mechanisms to resolve the issue but surprisingly after just five years the number of unverified SIMs has again swelled precisely to 4.47 million.
Some information ministry officials and technology experts believe that the responsibility lies with the operators while the industry people are of the view that unverified or ‘illegal’ SIMs issue could not be resolved until both the government and operators jointly evolve an effective mechanism for the purpose.
“To date every policy implemented in this regard had loopholes, underlying the need for the telecom industry to come up with new policies to curb illegal SIMs,” a ministry official said.
In the previous government, the interior ministry led by Rehman Malik had launched multiple campaigns to curb the menace, enforcing a number of processes to be followed by cellular operators.
In 2008, the PTA introduced a SIM ownership verification system under which the subscribers were required to provide the original CNIC and a thumb print to get a new SIM. Later, 668 service was launched in 2009 so that through a simple process a subscriber could know if any other SIM was issued against his or her CNIC.
Similarly, 789 service was introduced in 2009 for SIM activation to verify information regarding a CNIC. Previously, pre-activated SIMs were available in the market but with introduction of this mechanism, the connection could only be activated after CNIC verification.
A subscriber has to make a call to 789 and answer a few personal questions like mother’s maiden name, place of birth etc, which were only shared with National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) at the time of issuance of CNIC.
Interestingly, the authenticity of this system also became questionable when someone got a SIM activated in the name of the then interior minister Rehman Malik by providing his personal details to 789 service.
All information given by an individual to Nadra at the time of issuance of a CNIC is also available in the lists that are open to public with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The federal government is now pushing the PTA to enforce a new system - biometric verification system - for selling new SIMs.
An official of a leading operator told Dawn that Nadra should ensure it had authentic data of individuals and their addresses and any change should be updated timely in the CNICs.
“Nadra will have to counter fake CNICs and ensure that the vital information is not loosely available, especially via the ECP,” he said.