KARACHI: The Sindh police on Tuesday busted an organised gang that had been selling activated subscriber identity modules (SIMs) of different cellular companies through illegal channels exposing serious flaws in the identification system devised by the authorities to maintain database of subscribers.
The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Sindh police in a major action arrested more than half a dozen suspects of the gang which was selling SIMs in different cities.
The anti-terror agency believed that the SIMs could be used by criminal groups and banned outfits for terrorism-related activities.
In a statement, the CTD said the gang was involved selling activated SIMs for which it had designed an organised system involving a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
“At first stage the gang through its agents distributed volunteer forms of the NGO among the people,” said a CTD statement quoting its head Raja Umar Khattab as saying.
“Then they collected the forms with copies of the volunteers’ CNICs and their thumb impressions. The copies of the CNICs and thumb impressions were then used for activation of SIMs through the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) system.”
The government a few years ago had decided to carry out biometric verification of millions of cellular connections under the National Action Plan. The verification was aimed at blocking the misuse of technology, especially for terrorism.
All five service providers in Pakistan took months through more than 60,000 biometric devices operated by their franchisees, customer service centres and retailers to streamline their subscribers’ data.
Cellular companies’ role
However, the recent action by the law enforcement agency suggests that the challenge is not yet over and most alarmingly it raises doubts regarding the role of cellular companies.
“During the investigation, it emerged that the cellular companies, their franchises and other stakeholders associated with the business are still using illegal channels to increase their subscribers’ base,” said the CTD statement.
“This racket has spread across the country. It is not only affecting the national economy negatively, but also facilitating the criminal elements in their anti-social and anti-state activities. Unfortunately, for their business interests they are also misusing Nadra’s facility.”
The CTD claimed that the activated SIMs were being sold at higher prices to criminal elements, which later were used in heinous crimes including terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, killings and illegal telecommunication business. The sales of such cellular connections, it said, created great hurdles during the course of probe and most of the time the criminals managed to mislead investigators through their fake identity and tampered with details in the system.
“The arrested suspects have been identified as M. Rizwan, Irfan Ashiq, Kashif Javed, Anjum Zahoor, Muzammil Tabassum, Waqas Ahmed and M. Rehan. Their three aides are still at large and efforts are being made for their arrests as well. The CTD during the course of its investigation has also recovered several laptops, scanners of different cellular companies, forms of the NGO, scanners of a private bank, biometric machines and hundreds of activated SIMs of different cellular companies,” added the statement.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019