‘LEAs jeopardising SIM verification process’
Karachi: While telecom operators grapple with the gigantic task of verification of over 103 million subscriber identity modules (SIMs) using the biometric verification system, “the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are jeopardising the process by harassing and abducting telecom retailers, who are supposed to be the biggest help in re-verification”.
Senior officials in the telecom sector claim that mobile operators rely heavily on retailers for the sale of their SIMs, and seeking their help for re-verification of SIMs was the best way to complete the process within the given deadline, as service centres and franchises, especially in the smaller cities, are not enough to cater to a large subscriber base.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s standard operating procedures for SIM re-verification, all mobile operators need to verify their SIMs before April 13.
The first phase of the verification has already started, under which subscribers possessing three or more SIMs are being re-verified and all unverified numbers of such subscribers will be blocked on February 27, said a senior official working at one of the mobile operators.
The second phase of re-verification will start from February 27, under which subscribers possessing one or two SIMs will be re-verified by April 13, after which all unverified numbers will be blocked, said an official working for another mobile company.
“More than 60,000 retailers have been tasked with re-verification of SIMs to accelerate the process. Around 18,000 retailers in different cities and districts of Sindh are part of the re-verification process, while over 9,000 of them are in Karachi only, which has been declared among the most sensitive areas by the government for the process.”
However, the LEAs, especially in Sindh, have found a good opportunity to extort money from the retailers of mobile companies, taking advantage of the government’s recent drive against illegal SIMs to deal with terrorism in the country, claimed the telecom officials.
Over the past few weeks, several franchises of mobile phone operators and retail shops were raided in Karachi, Kotri, Kashmore, Guddu, Hyderabad, Dadu, Nawabshah, Matli, Tando Allahyar and Tando Adam, while a number of retailers were abducted, they added.
“It has become a routine that the LEAs raid retailers’ shops and confiscate their biometric verification systems and SIMs,” said a retailer.
He said the LEAs claim that these dealers were involved in the illegal sale of SIMs. This shows how little they know about the system, he added.
“It is unclear whether the government wants to get rid of terrorism or the heavy foreign direct investment in the telecommunication sector.”
The retailer said that harassing the dealers would not help counter terrorism but it would, instead, scare away the investors.
Current measures of the LEAs against dealers and people associated with telecommunication companies are setting a wrong precedent, said a branch manager of a leading cellular company.
“The efforts of the LEAs are establishing that the communication sector of the country is facilitating terrorism. This would jeopardise the sophisticated culture of this sector and people will lose trust in the mobile companies that are as patriotic as any Pakistani,” said an official of another telecom company.
He asked how the LEAs could detain people on the pretext that they were selling illegal SIMs in the presence of a highly monitored and regulated SIM selling system.
“These threatening efforts of the LEAs are simply against the basic rights of the people because there is no legislation in this regard in the country yet.”
A source in the telecom industry said the government should not leave this very important sector at the mercy of the LEAs because it would prove highly dangerous for the investment in this sector as well as the people associated with it.
“If there are any flaws in the system, it is the responsibility of the government and mobile companies, and the dealers should not be held accountable for that.”
These measures of the LEAs will have a bad impact on the investment of billions of dollars in the sector, which is already complying with all the security requirements, added the source.