Unregistered SIMs are the mother of all crimes

 

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11/09/03  KARACHI: Law enforcement agencies have become a laughing stock after failing to track down people behind kidnapping for ransom, but the business community blames mobile phone service providers more than the government as they issue the unregistered SIMs usually used for getaways and negotiations. Businessmen say that unregistered SIMs are the mother of all crimes as all of them, especially extortion and kidnapping for ransom, have been carried out by people using unregistered SIMs.

The Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) Chief Ahmed Chinoy, agrees with the businessmen that unregistered SIMs are basic irritant for law enforcing agencies to control major crimes. The problem of unregistered SIMs can only be resolved if mobile phone service providers deliver SIMs to the postal address of the customers instead of handing them over at shops and outlets, said Chinoy. Industry officials say that they are sending the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) data about flagged and suspicious SIMs regularly.

Telecom companies concerned about business ethics have taken the problem very seriously and have set their own targets about verifying SIMs. A few companies are even scrutinising every unverified SIM individually. People who are vetting the system are running after it like they run after sales targets. The companies have their call centre people monitoring traffic and a SIM is flagged every time one is being switched on and off constantly or being ported around networks.

However, all companies point to one flaw in their plan, the human factor. You can get a SIM registered under a random NIC if you want to pay a little extra while people have managed to figure out how to change International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, they say. IMEI is a unique number that makes a phone traceable but people have found a way around it as well, making them impossible to track. The telecom watchdog PTA claims to have blocked more than 16 million unregistered SIMs but the nuisance continues. Top representatives of the city’s business community are furious with the interior minister Rehman Malik for not equipping police with modern technology to detect unregistered SIMs. A few months ago, as a last resort, they also threatened a series of strikes following the ever-increasing number of extortion cases in the commercial hub of the country. “Rehman Malik told us in a meeting a few months back that he will block all unregistered SIMs in a few days but nothing has happened yet,” said former Chairman Federal B Area of Trade and Industry Idress Gigi.

“To confirm his commitment, I even bought an unregistered mobile phone set and an unregistered SIM. I continue to check them after every 15 days but to my surprise both are still functional,” he said. Unregistered mobile phones range from stolen phones that have been blocked or Chinese phones that have one identification number across the entire mobile model, making it impossible to trace. Kidnapping for ransom and extortion plagued Karachi in recent months but all efforts to control these crimes failed to show tangible results