The government’s attempts to curb the import of smartphones not registered with the telecom regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), show that possibly there are holes in the PTA system. Unscrupulous elements seem to have cracked the system to register an unknown amount of smuggled phones, without paying duties to the government or registering with the authority. Such phones seem to have been registered using travel data of passengers. What this means is that passengers who are legally bringing in phones from abroad suffer and have to run from pillar to post to ensure that their devices are not blocked by the authority.
There has been much concern surrounding the imposition of the new duty regime and the PTA’s attempts to register all legally imported devices to sort out the smuggled ones in the market. There have even been limited panic over the PTA warning to shut down smuggled phones. But after it emerged how smugglers are misusing travel data to falsely register phones against passport numbers, it has raised serious questions about the capability of the authorities to plug the gap in the system which they were using to stop the entry of smuggled phones. This presents a problem on two fronts. First is the PTA’s inability to adequately put safeguards in place which would ensure that its system cannot be cracked and that there is some mechanism to verify each registration. The second is the broader problem of data security.
While the PTA can work to resolve the first part, it is the second part which is of greater concern because there are no laws at the moment which adequately protect the personal data of citizens. Confidential data with government organisations such as the National Database and Regulatory Authority can easily be obtained from Facebook groups online for a small sum. And it seems in this instance, passport data has been used. Apart from introducing better verification systems for individuals and cell phones to register them, the government must also look to revamp data protection laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2019.
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