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Interior Ministry gives 28 days deadline to register 38 million SIMs, FIA launches crackdown

Interior Ministry gives 28 days deadline to register 38 million SIMs, FIA launches crackdown

ISLAMABAD: Interior Ministry has informed that crackdown against illegal SIMs has been started in the country.

The country wide crackdown has been started by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the FIA has taken action against illegal gateways.

In first phase of action as many as 34 persons have been arrested, a spokesman of interior ministry said.

Around 6407, illegal SIMs have  been recovered in the crackdown.

It is pertinent to mention here that the government has taken the action as per national action plan against terrorism.

The government has prepared national action plan with consultation with all parliamentary parties head after barbaric attack on Army Public School in Peshawar.

Earlier, the government and telecommunication companies decided to ensure re-verification of Subscriber Identification Module (SIMs) through Biometric Verification System (BVS). Interior Ministry has directed mobile phone companies to re-verify each and every mobile subscriber (somewhere around 140 million subscriptions) through BVS within 28 days and block all unverified connections after the given deadline.

Currently there are about 140 million total mobile subscribers while about 0.1 million are being added per day. About 38 million SIMs are unverified or have yet to pass through BVS for verification. After August 1, 2014 telecom companies installed 70 thousands BVS across the country costing about $26 million to verify SIMs.

Telecom companies officials maintained that earlier 789 call centers were established to register all the SIMs by name; however the process took about 6 months. The deadline given by the government for re-verification of SIMs through BVS is unrealistic and next to impossible.

The issue of un-registered SIMs has been in the spot light after recent attack on Army Public School in Peshawar. After finding out that there were five SIMs issued to a lady from Hasilpur in Southern Punjab, Chaudhry Nisar Khan, Minister for Interior, stated that mobile phone companies should start a crackdown on unregistered SIMs.

Telecom companies argue that SIMs verification through BVS is not the solution to the problem. Quoting the latest survey conducted by the GSMA where 15 markets were studied it was revealed that mandatory SIM registration does not help in reduction of terrorism and crimes. Research found that criminals and terrorists who are determined to remain anonymous will use other means to obtain active SIM cards or simply buy them from abroad and roam on other countries’ networks.

According to the survey, an increasing number of governments have recently introduced mandatory registration of prepaid SIM card users, primarily as a tool to counter terrorism and support law enforcement efforts. However, to date there is no evidence that mandatory registration leads to a reduction in crime. In many countries around the world, consumers can buy prepaid or ‘Pay As You Go’ mobile SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards from retail outlets usually with little or no paperwork involved. Unlike pay-monthly mobile SIM contracts, the activation and use of prepaid SIM cards does not always require the customer to register or present any identity documents at the point of sale.

A number of other governments, including those of the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Romania and New Zealand, have considered mandating prepaid SIM registration but concluded against it. While these governments’ detailed policy assessments have not been published, reports have highlighted the absence of evidence, in terms of providing significant benefits for criminal investigations, as a key reason for rejecting this policy, so maintains the GSMA study.