Large-scale blocking of Sims in Karachi likely
KARACHI, May 20: Telecoms authorities, preparing to block some seven million unregistered cellphone connections, have found Karachi with more than half of the total illegal cellular subscribers across the country, thanks to unchecked sales of SIMs (subscriber identity modules) by mobile phone service providers who, at least in one case, sold as many as 10,000 connections on a single copy of an identity card.
Findings of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior have disclosed facts that identified serious violations of the rules designed by the telecoms watchdog and the cellular companies, which led to more than three million unverified subscribes only in the city, posing threats mainly to law-enforcement agencies.
“More than half of the seven million subscribers have been located in Karachi,” said a senior official, citing the committee’s findings. “Irregularities have been found in connection of sales by all companies operating in the city and such facts have been put on record to decide a future course of action against such companies.”
For instance, he said, a mobile phone company was found having sold some 10,000 connections registered in the name of a single person, whose national identity card copy was the only document the company possessed.
“It is difficult to answer whether all these connections are being used in Karachi or also in other parts of the country,” added the official.
The Senate Standing Committee on Interior has already asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block all unverified mobile phone connections in the country by May 22, in a move believed to address concerns of law-enforcement agencies.
A senior member of the committee agreed that being the largest city, Karachi was the main contributor of such a large number of unverified cellular connections. He also confirmed violations by cellular companies while selling connections to increase their subscriber base.
“Each company is allowed to sell a maximum of 10 connections against a single person’s data or identity card,” Senator Mohammad Talha Mahmood Aryan, chairman of he Standing Committee on Interior, told Dawn.
“But selling 1,000 or more connections by all companies appeared a routine matter in Karachi. Such a situation prompted us to move against this sheer violation of law.”
The country witnessed a phenomenal jump in cellular subscribers since 2004 when the two foreign telecom companies launched their operations and triggered a competition, which led to more than 85 million users of mobile phones services across the country by April 2008.
The PTA data shows Mobilink leads the market share with more than 31 million subscribes across the country followed by Ufone with 17.53 million users. The Norwegian Telenor enjoys a total of 17.32 million subscribers, as 14.76 million people use service of UAE’s Warid.
The China Mobiles has attracted more than three million subscribers so far while Instaphone’s subscriber base has fallen to 321,201, says the PTA data. The authorities, however, say the rules are violated by almost all companies, which appears as a serious challenge for the law enforcement agencies.
“We are not against any company or subscriber,” said Senator Aryan. “But I am happy that the companies have responded positively to our call and put their effort to streamline the subscribers’ record.”
The unregistered cellphone connections have seriously challenged the law enforcement agencies, which find themselves helpless against the technology while tracing culprits through data available with the cellphone companies.
“Cellphone use has sharply increased in almost every crime, which includes even serious activity of kidnapping for ransom and terrorism,” said Sharfuddin Memon, chairman of the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee.
“But during the course of investigations when we trace the record of a caller using the phone for criminal activity, most of the time it appears fake.”
He suggested a ban on irregular sale of cellphone connections and asked the PTA to design a policy that bound the companies to provide connections at subscribers’ homes.
“One more thing which can put a check on such irregularities is that the companies should activate SIMs after 48 hours of its sale, as during this time it should verify the data provided by the subscriber,” added Mr Memon.