Pakistan Telecommunication Authority body to streamline cellular subscribers' data -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority body to streamline cellular subscribers’ data

By: Imran Ayub

KARACHI: Amid growing concerns over millions of cellphone connections on bogus identities, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has formed a four-member committee to suggest measure to streamline cellular subscribers’ data and propose a mechanism to sell new, mainly prepaid, SIMs (subscriber identity module), it emerged on Sunday.

Sources privy to a recent meeting called by the telecom watchdog said that a lengthy discussion between the cellular operators, security experts and PTA officials led to a unanimous decision of forming the committee tasked with suggesting fresh measures against the menace that was now also seen as a threat to security.

“The committee includes senior officials from PTA and the ministry of IT and telecom,” said a source close to the process. “The chief executive officer of one of the five cellular companies and the chief of the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) are also members of the committee, which would hold its first meeting on Sept 17. It would think over possible measures to streamline cellular subscribers’ data and a new regime to sell prepaid connections.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik last month talked about blocking all prepaid SIMs to prevent their use in terrorist activities.

However after serious concerns from the cellular operators and millions of subscribes, the minister clarified that the proposed measures covered only those connection acquired on fake identities. The proposal came in the backdrop of a government decision through which it suspended mobile phone service in several cities on the eve of Eid-u-Fitr due to some serious security threats.

“There is a consensus among all stakeholders that there is a flaw in the existing system of selling prepaid connections although cellular operators claim that they are following all defined rules,” said CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy, who is also a member of the PTA committee.

“The committee is mandated to suggest measures that would be close to a perfect formula. There is a need of determination and consistent effort, which lead to the birth of a credible system. It’s a big task but I don’t think the desired results are unachievable.”

In 2009, the PTA had directed the cellular companies to sell only inactive SIMs to the people after getting a copy of their computerised national identity cards to ensure authentic data of all cellphone subscribers.

For activation of a SIM, the subscriber is required to make a call to a helpline number through the inactive SIM and confirm the details of his identity to the service provider. With the help of the National Database Regulatory Authority database, the call attendant verifies details of the subscribers’ identity before activating the SIM.

However after more than three years, serious questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the system.

“If the cellphone companies are following the set guidelines, then there must be someone who can breech those rules… This suggests a serious flaw which is needed to be identified and replaced with a system free of such loopholes,” said the CPLC chief.