Mobile operators start blocking 10m unverified SIMs | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Mobile operators start blocking 10m unverified SIMs

Pakistan Press Foundation

Islamabad – After the expiry of biometric reverification campaign of subscriber identity modules (SIMs) on Sunday, the mobile phone companies started blocking around 10 million unverified SIMs, but many of the questions surfaced during the exercise stretching over three months, are yet to be answered.

According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), around 78 million SIMs have been verified against 60,496,307 computerised national identity cards.
The number of total SIMs to be verified was 103 million at the start of the campaign, three months back.

According to PTA, one-day-old data, more than 11,757,797 SIMs were disowned and were blocked.
The officials said that the blocking of unverified SIMs would start from Monday and it would be completed in two days.

“We have to submit a final report to Ministry of Interior on April 14 that how many SIMs were verified and how many blocked, officials told this scribe.
However, according to officials, SIMs issued to foreigners or overseas Pakistanis would not be blocked, and their last date would be announced soon.

According to officials, the SIMs blocked after the last date could be re-opened immediately after the biometric SIM verification.

The process is intended to facilitate the users, so anyone whose SIM is blocked after Sunday could get his SIM reopened after biometric verification, the officials said, adding, the blocked number would not be issued to any other person till next six months.

The verification of SIMs was initiated by the government under the National Action Plan after the Peshawar Army Public School massacre in December last year, when security forces found that the SIMs used by the terrorists, were issued under fake names.
One of the terrorist used a SIM belonged to a woman residing in a far-flung village.

On the recommendation of the top spy agencies, the interior ministry geared up the biometric verification of the SIMs.
According to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), there are 136 million cellphone users in the country.
Following the start of biometric campaign, new SIMs were issued after biometric verification, however, around 103 million old SIMs required verification.

The phone companies, on the directions of the interior ministry, arranged 80,000 machines, each costing $ 400 to read the thumb impressions of users.
But retailers started charging from the citizens up to Rs 250 against the officially fixed fee of Rs 10 per verification.
Where this huge money went, PTA Chairman who was designated as a focal person, could not answer satisfactorily.

“It is unfortunate that some retailers are charging exorbitant prices; it has nothing to do with the mobile operators.

There are other questions as well.
Will it be checked that why mobile companies issued 103 million SIMs against 60 million CNICs, at the first place.

Many of the users complained that they never applied for more than one SIM, so who misused their identity cards? And will steps be taken to stop this misuse in future?
Is data provided by the PTA is accurate, as in past it has contradicted its own figures and last month PTA chairman admitted that millions of SIMs could not be verified due to bad thumb impression or cheap quality of machines whose sensors could not match users’ thumb impressions with data provided by Nadra.
What happened to that unreadable data?
In addition to above users who verified their SIMs during the period, pointed out some flaws in the system.

“I got my SIM verified after the launch of campaign but during the whole time I have been receiving messages from 789.
Since March 3, I have received 64 messages that a number 0303-2233686 is registered against your CNIC, if you want to own this number, pl reply to this message,” said Maqbool Malik, a journalist and defence analyst.

“When I complained at the helpline, they termed it a system error.
If my verification is not updated automatically and I receive messages to get my number verified and messages to own a number which I never had in any record, simply raises questions about the authenticity of the whole process.

There is a common perception that these telecom companies issued such a huge number of SIMs without obtaining CNICs, and when this campaign was launched they hurriedly transferred the numbers on the CNICs of their bonafide users, who got SIMs on their respective CNICs, Malik said.

There is still ambiguity about the fate of millions of SIMs that were being used by the afghan refugees, in addition to the Aghan SIMs, he added.
Majority of the users said they had been receiving messages regarding verification even after getting their SIMs verified.

The Nation