PTA’s mobile phone registration system fails to lessen street crimes

Updated February 17, 2020

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A technology-driven initiative launched by the federal authorities a year ago to curb the risks associated with the use of illegal mobile phone sets in the country has failed to make any impact on curbing street crimes — one of the key sources behind trade of second-hand sets — as the number of snatching/theft incidents in 2019 touched three-year high. — AFP/File
A technology-driven initiative launched by the federal authorities a year ago to curb the risks associated with the use of illegal mobile phone sets in the country has failed to make any impact on curbing street crimes — one of the key sources behind trade of second-hand sets — as the number of snatching/theft incidents in 2019 touched three-year high. — AFP/File

KARACHI: A technology-driven initiative launched by the federal authorities a year ago to curb the risks associated with the use of illegal mobile phone sets in the country has failed to make any impact on curbing street crimes — one of the key sources behind trade of second-hand sets — as the number of snatching/theft incidents in 2019 touched three-year high.

Data compiled by the Karachi police and the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) raised questions on effectiveness of the much-publicised Device Identification, Registration & Blocking System (DIRBS), which was launched in January 2019 as the authorities had claimed that the new technology would curb the risks associated with the use of illegal mobile handsets in the country that would ultimately lead to curb street crimes.

The data said in 2019 — when DIRBS was put in place — 45,034 mobile phones were snatched or stolen in Karachi.

However, a total of 35,458 such incidents were reported in 2018 and in 2017 total 30,814 crimes of that nature were reported.

“DIRBS was launched in order to curb the risks associated with the use of illegal mobile handsets in country by the PTA [Pakistan Telecommunication Authority] and enforced its implementation through cellular mobile operators,” said an industry source. “The system was intended to verify, detect and discourage illegal, non-compliant, non-tax paid handsets and devices by authenticating currently active devices on cellular networks and ensuring continual monitoring as new devices are activated. Before the introduction of DIRBS, handsets with valid and invalid IMEIs were brought into Pakistan through legal and grey channels.”

He said that several problems emerged after the implementation of the system including high taxation, negative impact on used handset retail industry and affordability of handsets on the back of discouraging business environment and lack of awareness among the people. But apart from the dent to the cellular industry and handset trade, it was a new phenomenon, which was identified recently that the system had not even helped curbing street crimes as originally envisaged by the authorities.

The question emerged about the reason behind the rise in street crimes despite the system was in place to curb such illegal activities.

Investigators cite some surprising facts, which they have found during the course of their job, claiming that it’s no more a secret that the handsets being snatching and stolen in the city, are being trafficked to neighbouring countries through illegal channels.

“I am not sure about Iran but definitely we have found in our investigations of multiple cases that these handsets [snatched and stolen in Karachi] are trafficked to Afghanistan,” said Raja Umar Khattab of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD). “It’s an organised crime so the people involved in the trade have made proper arrangements. What we need to do is to check where and who is breaching this system.”

He said that the handsets which were not useable due to DIRBS after they were snatched or stolen in Karachi were packed to be sent to Afghanistan but he was not convinced that the new system was fully effective even within the country.

“It needs to be checked and checked again. I think if the number of cellphone snatching is still increasing and such business is still effective despite the system is in place, we need to do a technical audit of the entire exercise and the system and fix issues where required,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2020