Non-custom paid mobile phones being unblocked in market: PTA

Updated May 30, 2019

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Mobile phone registration process proving counterproductive, PPP senators say. — AFP/File
Mobile phone registration process proving counterproductive, PPP senators say. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Wednesday conceded that even after implementation of its new mobile phone registration mechanism, non-custom paid mobile phone sets were being unblocked in the black market through stolen identities.

“Some 750 identity theft cases have been sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which has taken action and apprehended the culprits. We are making efforts to improve the registration mechanism,” Member PTA Dr Khawar Siddiq told the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication which met here with PPP senator Robina Khalid in the chair.

PTA’s Device Identification Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) is an indigenous solution aimed at checking the use of smuggled or counterfeit sets. The senate committee took up the matter after MQM Senator Mian Mohamamd Ateeq Shaikh raised the issue. He said non-custom paid handsets were being unblocked in the black market for Rs2,000 to Rs3,000, which could have earned the exchequer more than Rs30,000.

Mobile phone registration process proving counterproductive, PPP senators say

He also showed the committee members and IT ministry officials a receipt which to confirmed that someone had gotten a phone unblocked in the black market.

Taking notice of the issue, chairperson of the committee PPP Senator Robina Khalid said that travelers coming from abroad should be exempted from registering their mobile phone sets, including extra handsets they brought as gifts.

“We understand that there is a need to curb smuggling of phones, but PTA’s new registration mechanism is not user friendly and is causing inconvenience to the ordinary man. Not every passenger carrying two or three mobile phone sets while coming from abroad is a criminal,” the chairperson said. Calling DIRBS flawed, PPP Senator Rehman Malik said that no other country in the world asked their citizens to register their mobile phones.

“The immense inconvenience caused to ordinary man is far greater than the few million rupees collected from them in taxes on bringing one extra handset into the country. Mobile sets are being smuggled into Pakistan in containers and trucks and not by Pakistanis coming from abroad,” Rehman Malik said asking the government to do away with DIRBS.

MQM Senator, Ateeq Shaikh urged PTA to implement mechanisms that are applied by the 99pc of the nations across the world and not by just one or two countries.

PTI Senator Faisel Javed was the only member speaking in favour of the phone registration system, saying it was a positive step.

The Senate also took notice of the leakage of passengers’ data during the process of mobile phone registration, which was being misused.

According to PTA, passengers’ data is being leaked only at the airport allegedly in connivance with travel agents. The committee strongly proposed a foolproof system for data security. It believed that the DIRBS, launched to curb smuggling has done less good and created more problems for the people who do not understand it.

PTA told the meeting that 663, 622 personal users registered themselves since February. Out of these 440, 821 were registered under FBR baggage rule exemption with no tax, 12, 293 were registered under duty paid category.

The committee observed that the system put in place by PTA and FBR is not properly publicized and decided to call FBR and FIA officials in next meeting to brief the committee on the system in addition to briefing by PTA. “The government is trying its best to promote Pakistan as a tourism friendly country, the phone registration mechanism counters the initiatives,” Robina Khalid said.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2019