SIM verification drive may suffer, PTA warns interior ministry
KARACHI: Protesting against police and Rangers for raiding ‘rightful businesses’ and arresting retailers selling SIM cards of cellular firms, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has warned the interior ministry that such actions may ‘hamper’ the much-publicised verification drive of cellular data in the country, it emerged on Saturday.
The telecom watchdog has expressed serious reservations over the raids and arrests of people associated with the sale of SIMs, or subscriber identity modules, in Sindh and written a letter to the interior ministry’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) and the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) recently.
“The cellular operators have informed that police and Rangers are visiting, surveying and arresting their retail sale outlets’ representatives from different cities of Sindh including Hyderabad, Kotri, Dadu, Nawabshah, Matli, Tando Allahyar and Kashmore,” reads the PTA letter. “The biometric devices and equipment along with SIMs are also being confiscated. This all is being done on the plea that retailers are not allowed to sale SIMs and it’s the mandate of only franchisees. An FIR has also been registered against a retailer at Tando Allahyar who has been arrested.”
It said that the PTA being the telecom regulator had issued comprehensive standard operating procedures wherein apart from customer service centres and franchisees, authorised retailers were also allowed to sell new SIMs after due formalities under the defined rules.
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“For the purpose, the retailers have been allowed authorisation certificates by their representative company and each and every SIM issued by such retailers can be identified and traced. The same is possible due to the fact that the SIMs are being sold through a well-defined automated process developed by the mobile companies, Nadra [National Database and Registration Authority] and NCMC,” said the PTA letter.
The PTA concerns came days after Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, warned all the mobile phone companies that their respective executives would be booked ‘for terrorism’ if a phone connection sold in violation of set rules was found to have been used in any terror activity.
In a letter sent to the Sindh chief minister, the PTA and the regional headquarters of five cellular firms — Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Warid and Zong — the Rangers warned of strong measures to counter what they called ‘flaws’ causing ‘deterioration of law and order situation’.
However, the measures suggested by the paramilitary force and then their action in different cities of Sindh shocked cellular firms, as they believed that the Rangers were not mandated to address such concerns directly with the operators specially in the presence of a regulatory body — the PTA.
The PTA letter that basically asked the interior ministry to rein in its law enforcement agencies also reflects the concerns of the cellular companies. The telecom watchdog has even warned that such actions from the police and Rangers may also affect the much-needed cellular data verification process.
“The unilateral action on part of law enforcement agencies is badly affecting the rightful business of retailers,” said the PTA letter. “Furthermore, such activities will badly hamper the joint drive of ministry of interior, PTA and mobile operators for verification of all existing SIMs through biometric verification system specifically in current law and order situation of the country.”
The PTA also asked the ministry of interior to restrict the police and Rangers to take action against only those elements which were involved in the illegal sale of the cellular connection.
The letter said that the issue was also brought into the knowledge of the interior secretary by the PTA chairman during a meeting held on Dec 29, 2014. “Foregoing in view, the matter is being escalated to the ministry with a request to direct the concerned LEAs in Sindh including Rangers and police to confine their action against unauthorised/illegal retailers only.”