THE government is asking cellphone operators to re-verify subscriber data for all prepaid SIM cards within 28 days.
Industry estimates say there are 100 million prepaid SIM cards in circulation, which would mean verifying almost 2,500 SIMs every minute for 24 hours a day for 28 days continuously to achieve the goal.
Clearly, the deadline is unrealistic and shows a disconnect between what the state authorities are wishing for and what is actually possible.
The repeated demands from the government for telecoms to set up new systems for monitoring the issuance of SIMs is a further indication that the government acts in ad hoc haste when trying to devise a plan for countering the use of SIM cards in incidents of terrorism, as opposed to developing a well-thought-out plan that can remain in place for years at a stretch.
SIMs need to be re-verified, but the deadline ought to be more realistic and the exercise accompanied by a large campaign, funded by the telecoms, to let the people know that their SIMs will be disconnected if subscriber data has not been re-verified by a certain date.
How do other countries with endemic insurgencies and security issues deal with the question of issuing SIM cards? Such a study needs to be conducted to learn from the experience of others who have faced similar challenges.
Figures need to be generated giving us a comparative idea of the number of ‘ghost’ SIMs floating around as a percentage of the total, as well as unverified ones so that we have a clearer picture of the situation in our country regarding the potential for abuse of the telecom infrastructure for terrorism purposes.
Thus far the government and the telecoms have failed to develop a proper equation with each other when it comes to putting in place a sound framework for preventing the abuse of telecom services.
And this failure is visible every time telecom services have to be shut down altogether in large parts of the country in an effort to guard against a violent incident.
It is high time both parties came to an agreement on how to prevent the misuse of telecom services for terrorism and crime purposes. But for that to happen, the government will need to bring its own expectations in line with reality before making demands of cellphone operators. Controlling this menace ought to be a shared priority for both parties.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2015