KARACHI: PTA cool to citizens’ urge for safety of cellphones
By Arman Sabir
KARACHI, Sept 14: The Citizen-Police Liaison Committee and the police have mounted pressure on the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and mobile phone companies to start using the technology meant for blocking the stolen cellphone sets .The technology can be used across the country to make a stolen phone set dysfunctional. Currently, a prototype of the blocking system, developed with this technology, is in use but it has not been effective. In Karachi alone, 29,410 mobile phones had either been snatched at gunpoint or stolen in January-August period this year. The CPLC introduced the makeshift arrangement under which if a cellphone set is reported stolen, the connection (SIM) to be used through the stolen set is blocked each time. Well-placed sources said that a series of meetings, involving CPLC, Police and PTA officials and mobile phone dealers’ representatives had been held to find ways and means to make the system effective. The stakeholders had agreed that the PTA should compel all mobile phone operators to fully cooperate with them in jamming the mobile phone sets reported stolen, snatched or lost. Sources said that the PTA had earlier given the six mobile phone firms two deadlines for the installation of the technology but one of them appeared not fully prepared and sought extension in the deadline. The PTA has set September 30 as the third deadline asking all the cellphone companies to launch the set blocking service before the end of the month. However, the PTA has so far issued no reminder/instruction to mobile phone operators in this regard. Chief of the CPLC Sharfuddin Memon told Dawn that at the successive meetings with the PTA, the latter had been told that mobile phone companies could play a significant role in ensuring an effective check on cellphone theft. He said that the makeshift arrangement was possible only in Karachi, and if a stolen cellphone was taken away to some other city, the same could not be jammed or detected through this system. He said that the PTA was the only regulatory authority which could make the mobile phone operators to use the technology of rendering a lost cellphone set disabled. Besides, he said, the issue of fake connections was another problem to be tackled as availability of such a connection helped criminals use the cellular network for their ulterior motives without any check. He said that during scanning of various numbers, it had transpired that thousands of connections had been issued on a single identity. According to the rules set by the PTA, a mobile phone company could not issue more than 10 connections on a single identity. Sources said that a mobile phone operator had issued more than 5,000 connections on a single identity and the so-called ‘subscriber’ did not even know about it. There were many examples where a number had been issued to a person who had never sought the connection. If such a numbers were found used in some criminal activity, police would naturally pick up the owner of the number, the sources pointed out. City police chief Niaz Siddiqui, talking to Dawn, insisted that the phone operations would have to meet the PTA deadline of September 30 to install the technology and implement the system to curb the menace of phone theft. The PTA had given to the police some forms containing the procedure and guidelines for general public to report snatching, theft or loss of phone set. The mobile phone operators would launch the awareness programme along side the implementation of the technology. He hoped the system to block a stolen cellphone sets would be implemented this month. About fake subscribers, he said that many such connections had already been issued and police were facing serious problems in detecting the user. The irresponsible attitude of mobile phone operators and the discreet silence kept by the PTA in this regard may lead to a major lapse, the sources apprehended, recalling that a fake mobile phone connection (SIM) was used for conversation relating to the March 2 car-bomb blast that had occurred outside the US consulate in the city, killing four people, including a US diplomat.