ISLAMABAD: A working group constituted by interior ministry and comprising members from interior and information technology ministries, mobile phone operators, Nadra, the Federal Investigation Authority, Intelligence Bureau and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) began verifying over 100 million unverified SIMs (subscriber identification modules) on Monday, PTA chief said on Wednesday.
PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication that the government had asked the joint group to complete the task within 90 days.
“These are the directives issued by the interior ministry after the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar on Dec 16 last year,” he remarked.
The SIMs in question were issued before Aug 2014 and were not verified earlier through the biometric verification system (BVS).
“The 103m SIMs have been issued against computerised national identity cards. The verification is being done to bring all connections under the BVS. Some 70,000 biometric devices have been placed at sales points of mobile phone companies to facilitate the subscribers,” Dr Shah said. He expressed the hope that subscribers would get their SIMs verified and maximum numbers of connections would be authenticated during the 90-day period and the remaining SIMs blocked.
“The government will not seek sudden blockage of unverified SIMs. The 90-day period will most likely be extended and the process will be properly advertised through print and electronic media to inform subscribers about the exercise,” Information Technology Secretary Azmat Ali Ranjha said.
The meeting was told that over the past six years, the PTA had been working to ensure issuance of new SIMs against authentic information. Under the ‘789 system’, introduced by the PTA in Jan 2009, subscribers had to answer two secret questions — mother’s name and place of birth — for activation of SIMs.
The system worked until Jan 2013 when voter list was made public during the last general elections. The list included the secret questions and attracted SIM activation through identity theft.
Between 2009 and 2014, another system of “cleaning of old subscribers data” was implemented under which owners of connections sold before Jan 2009 were requested to own SIMs in use and disown extra inactive SIMs through short message service (SMS), which helped in correction of data. Some 31.8m connections were regularised and 28.5m unverified SIMs blocked.
This was followed by installation of BVS at sale points from July 2014. As many as 70,000 biometric machines were installed at sale points of cellular mobile operators (CMOs). The SIMs are now being sold and activated only after online verification of purchaser’s biometrics (thumb/finger impressions) by the National Database and Registration Authority.
During the meeting, Senator Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party said he believed that people suffered the most and paid the cost whenever a new system was introduced.
An official of IT ministry told Dawn: “Whether it was the Rs2.5 billion ‘789’ SIM verification system or the roughly Rs3bn BVS, the cellular companies and the subscribers paid the costs with very little concessions from the government,” he said. The re-verification of old SIMs through BVS began on Jan 12.
According to the PTA, the target are the subscribers in sensitive areas like Karachi, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan. These were the subscribers who owned more than three SIMs of a company against one CNIC.
The PTA would verify subscribers of sensitive areas before moving to the rest of the subscribers who owned more than three SIMs against one CNIC.
Subscribers with two SIMs of a company and connections of those who owned one SIM per CNIC would be verified in the last phase.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2015