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SIM Verification Predicament in Pakistan

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SIM Verification

In order to implement National Action Plan to root out menace of terrorism, the government and telecos agreed to re-verify 103 million SIMs within 90 days through Biometric Verification System (BVS). Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has issued the mandatory instructions on January 12, 2015 for all telecom subscribers to re-verify their SIMs through Biometric process for security reasons. The cellular mobile operators have always worked with the government and provided all essential support in implementing required measures to facilitate data verification exercises including 668 processes back in 2009, 789 verification processes in 2011 and now Biometric Verification System (BVS) introduced in 2014.

The cellular industry has urged all its valued customers to perform their national duty by re-verifying their mobile phone SIMs as per the schedule announced by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Ministry of Interior. The industry has also sought government’s support to meet the extremely challenging task by ensuring cooperation of law enforcement agencies/local authorities, provision of security at service centers/franchise and BVS retailers across the country where re-verification process is underway.The industry has so far invested $25 million on the provision of around 60,000 BVS devices and Rs 22 billion on previous mandatory verification processes with another significant amount to be spent on this re-verification exercise to enhance the availability of these BVS devices across Pakistan.

The industry has so far invested $25 million on the provision of around 60,000 BVS devices and Rs 22 billion on previous mandatory verification processes with another significant amount to be spent on this re-verification exercise to enhance the availability of these BVS devices across Pakistan

The Industry’s volunteered support towards measures to maintain National Security in view of the prevalent law and order situation should be recognized accordingly. Moreover, the industry has also played a remarkable role through its corporate responsibility initiatives in overall social development as well as in emergency situations in the country.

The cellular industry has always been at the forefront in terms of cooperation with the government and security agencies in national security matters, and will continue its efforts in light of the prevailing security situation. Mobile telecommunication is also one of the largest contributors to the national exchequer, over the years the telecom industry has made a major and transformational contribution in the economic development of Pakistan.

Over the last three years, the telecom sector was already contributing an average of Rs. 124.8 billion annually to the national exchequer in terms of taxes, regulatory fees, initial and annual license fees, activation tax, and other charges. During FY2014, telecom sector has contributed an all-time high Rs. 243.8 billion, registering a growth of 95.8% over the last year.

But despite the tremendous efforts made by telecom operators and telecom watchdog, there are still few issues that need to be sorted out for the benefit of all stakeholders and SIM verification is on top of that list. All SIMs irrespective of pre-paid or post-paid were to be re-verified during the two-phased exercise starting from January 12, 2015. For this purpose, the present Biometric Verification System (BVS), which was developed by investing millions of dollars by Pakistan telecos, was further upgraded by establishing its linkages with NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) to ensure speedy verification of SIM holders.

Over the last three years, the telecom sector was already contributing an average of Rs. 124.8 billion annually to the national exchequer in terms of taxes, regulatory fees, initial and annual license fees, activation tax, and other charges

The NADRA will charge tax for holding basic and detailed verification respectively from telecom companies. This step can prove quite helpful regarding the current security situation of Pakistan and also to counter terrorism in the country.

The Two-Phase Re-Verification Process

It was decided that the re-verification of SIMs will be undertaken in two phases. The first phase was set from January 12, 2015 to February 26, 2015. During this phase a special focus was given for re-verification of SIMs from subscribers belonging to Karachi, Peshawar, DI Khan, DG Khan, bordering areas of Fata & Baluchistan. In second phase that started from Feb 27th, 2015, other subscribers from whole Pakistan will be re-verified during the remaining period of 90 days. Later on 27 Feb, 2015 these both phases were made one and the last date for all un-verified SIMs to be blocked was announced as April 14th, 2015.

Implications of Biometric Verification System (BVS)

In a country like Pakistan, implementation of polices and plans is usually a slow process and the outcomes are sometimes quite unexpected as well. For example many serious issues aroused after the initialization of the re-verification process. The public in general is having few objections related to this process. These ambiguities need to be cleared out to satisfy the concerns of citizens and gain their confidence. Following are the most common issues that people are complaining about.

Many serious issues aroused after the initialization of the re-verification process. The public in general is having few objections related to this process

  1. Why was this initiative not taken before? The telecom companies with PTA’s permission were allowed to only increase mobile penetration rate. Easy access was available to buy and misuse SIMs. Even general stores and shops in the market were selling SIM cards without CNIC and proper registration.
  2. No doubt the purpose behind Biometric Verification System (BVS) is appreciative and countering terrorism is the duty of public as well but if something happened because of government or PTA or cellular company’s mistake then why public is paying Rs. 10 per SIM verification tax for it?

The time span provided to telecos is limited and a huge line is always found in front of Telenor, Zong, Warid, Ufone and Mobilink Customer Care Centers, which is quite problematic for general public

Even now the process is not smooth enough. The time span provided to telecos is limited and a huge line is always found in front of Telenor, Zong, Warid, Ufone and Mobilink Customer Care Centers, which is quite problematic for general public. Recently, a petition has been filed in Lahore High Court against Rs. 10 charges imposed by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on biometric re-verification of SIMs. Iffat Chaudhry, a common citizen, in her petition said that mobile phone companies and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority are charging customers for ill-practices they had been indulged from many years.

Govt has introduced the National Action Plan (NAP) after the barbaric APS Peshawar attack by the terrorists that took place on 16, December, 2014

Petitioner said that PTA failed to regulate SIMs’ sale and hence telecom companies were given a free hand to sell SIMs without registrations. Miss Iffat also added that customers are paying a price for the mistakes of cellular companies and PTA combined. It won’t be out of place to mention that telecom companies are already facing criticism for reported incidents of retailers charging more than Rs. 10 per one SIM re-verification. Another common citizen Mr. Kamran Khattak when asked about the process complained aggressively and shared his experience iand said; “When I went to verify my Telenor SIM I was shocked to know that it is not registered against my name as I am using it since 5 years. The biometric machine was not detecting my thump expressions after many tries. The Customer Care Representative provided me with the reason that my ID card has been expired. I promptly checked my ID card and saw that there are few months left in its expiry date. Still I was asked to consult NADRA. At NADRA headquarters I was told that due to cheap and ill-functioning biometric devices daily 5-10 persons are misguided in the same way and sent to our office to renew their ID cards.”

Despite many hurdle, the hopes of public are high for the results that such steps may provide. So far it seems that citizens are the ones who are paying the highest cost in the process

As we know that Govt has introduced the National Action Plan (NAP) after the barbaric APS Peshawar attack by the terrorists that took place on 16, December, 2014. Therefore, along with many other significant measures like establishment of Army Courts and this biometric re-verification (BVS) of all mobile SIMs issued before 1st August, 2014 was taken for the betterment of nation. This step was taken keeping in mind usage of non-verified mobile SIMs in heinous terror attacks in the country.

Hence, despite many hurdle, the hopes of public are high for the results that such steps may provide. So far it seems that citizens are the ones who are paying the highest cost in the process. Therefore it is required by the government and the operators to take public in confidence and make maximum measures to facilitate them.