Nadra outsources its UK operation -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Nadra outsources its UK operation

Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) has decided to outsource its work in the UK to a security company here and a deal has already been struck, The News has learnt.

The intricate details of the outsourcing project and to speed up the completion process were discussed in an internal meetings, held at Pakistan’s High Commission, where Nadra Chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem was also present.

Hakeem left London on Tuesday after a two-day visit during which he also met officials of the security company called International Identity Services (IIS). Officially, the aim of the outsourcing is to speed up the services provided to overseas Pakistanis and to turn the Nadra card into a “smart card” linked to many other services such as banking, utility bills and identification.

However, sources expressed serious reservations about the efficacy of the scheme, fearing that the vital information of individuals might be hacked, leaked or secretly sold. Those in the command of Nadra are determined to motor on with outsourcing the project, paying scant regard to the reservations of the community and the serious fallout and of breach of data stored by an external agency, they added.

The News has learnt from a source that the Interior Ministry was very much interested in seeing the deal through. They said one of the key individuals linked to the outsourcing project, who could not be named for legal reasons, has spent time in jail and was closely linked to a high-profile Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader.

Another Pakistani-origin individual, involved in this project, is closely linked with a sitting minister in the cabinet, and it is believed that the minister went out of his way to advocate the outsourcing of Nadra, the source said.

Tariq Lodhi, General Manager, Nadra, UK and Europe, told The News the project to outsource Nadra was under way since June 2009 and the aim is to “improve the services”. “The people providing services will be ours and everything will be on board,” said Lodhi, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, adding the initiative had been cleared by all national security institutions.

“This initiative has already been tested in Pakistan and its working well. All the reservations that were raised during the two years scrutiny were addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned.”

More than 90 percent Pakistani citizens are already in Nadra’s registration net, and the system is working well, according to a Nadra official. The source said that after outsourcing, new cards will offer more incentives and facilities, including health insurance an accounts facility.

A source in Islamabad, closely linked to the outsourcing project, said the drive to bring maximum number of more than nine million overseas Pakistanis into the Nadra net was to ensure that revenue could be generated.

Interestingly, the Companies House records available with The News show that the IIS was registered as a limited company exactly two years ago–the same period to which Lodhi referred to.

No one from the IIS was available by email or phone to comment on the deal. The IIS boasts on its website that it provides personal identity verification services.

“Our personnel bring a unique set of skills that allow us to offer comprehensive solutions, including expertise in: smart cards, associated affinity programmes, biometric identification, network security, audit and compliance,” says the website.

Fears over the safety of Pakistanis’ data have been heightened in recent days as it is seen that the most stringent possible security mechanisms are vulnerable to attacks from hackers and cyber net anarchists and activists.

After the rape charges were brought against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, his cyber followers crippled the financial giants, as they launched attacks on the banking services and in many instances walked away with personal details of customers.

The News of the world scandal showed a few days ago that even the top security people were involved in dealing with those who were found to be hacking, cheating and stealing information of individuals brazenly.

A few weeks ago, the personal details of the subscribers from the website of the Sun newspaper, Britain’s mass circulating tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch, were hacked. Nadra claims to have perfected its system, which they will run in the IIS centres – to be located in the high density Pakistani population areas across the United Kingdom – through its own security cleared operators.

It remains to be seen what relief the new project brings to the community, how it financially benefits the government of Pakistan and how it wards off the cyber attacks and data pilferage. Rashid Aslam, a Supreme Court Solicitor from Adam Bernard Solicitors, has commented that the data would be easily accessible to a third party which might be in breach of the Data Protection Act which requires a data holding company to be regulated by any official governing body.

“Furthermore, it is also against the European Convention of Human Rights of which, the UK is (a) signatory, also obligatory on data holding company being established in the United Kingdom,” Aslam said.
Source: The News