ISLAMABAD: In addition to travel agents, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) airport employees have also been involved in stealing the travel data used by passengers to register new mobile phones, the agency’s cybercrime director told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
“While travel agents were stealing the documents of passengers returning from Umrah, three FIA officials at the airport have also come under scrutiny for selling passenger details on the black market,” Afzal Butt told the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication.
He said one of these officials is behind bars, the second has been granted bail and the third is on pre-arrest bail.
The committee had met for a briefing by the FIA and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on the illegal registration of mobile devices and the misuse of travellers’ data meant for the registration of mobile phones under the Device Identification Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS).
Senate committee on IT briefed on theft of data used to register mobile phones
The committee observed that stolen information and travel documents such as passport and identity card numbers that are needed to register mobile phones are being used in the open market to unblock non-customs paid mobile phones for Rs2,000 to Rs3,000.
The PTA has shared more than 45,000 cases of passengers’ identity theft with the FIA for legal action. Mr Butt told senators that FIA cannot act unless requested to by the FIA.
The committee also objected to the absence of IT Minister Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and the IT secretary. Members said that skipping committee meetings has become a normal exercise for sitting ministers.
“I chair a committee where the minister for IT was invited five times and he was absent every time,” Senator Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo said.
An agenda item raised by Senator Mir Kabeer was postponed after he refused to discuss it until the IT minister was present to answer questions.
The DIRBS also came under criticism, with members describing it as an inconvenience and impediment for Pakistanis bringing mobile phones back to their country rather than a facility.
“The phone blocking system is draconian and ridiculous. This is the only country in the world where everything is becoming harder for citizens every day and the noose around their necks is ever tightening. The system has failed to curb the smuggling of mobile handsets, the very purpose for which it was developed,” committee chair Senator Rubina Khalid said.
Senator Rehman Malik reminded Senator Khalid that she has the power to suspend the system. He added: “This is a flawed system and should be removed completely.”
Officials from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) reminded the committee that, effective July 1, Pakistanis travelling from abroad cannot bring a single phone duty-free.
In response, PTA Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa defended the DIRBS, saying that the legal commercial import of mobile phones has more than doubled since it was enforced.
He said: “The PTA has the capability to identify and trace 100pc and reach the source of who and how the travel documents were stolen. The PTA can de-register a mobile handset that has been unblocked using false information.”
When the meeting began, senators also prayed for Deputy Collector Customs Quetta Dr Abdul Quddus Sheikh. Sheikh was ambushed and beaten by suspected smugglers in Quetta and died of his injuries two days ago.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019