ISLAMABAD: The government plans to launch a crackdown against cellular phone companies, which issued illegal SIM cards used in recent terrorist acts as it considers tougher legislation to regulate the telecom sector.
“We have directed cellular companies to block 0.5 million illegal SIM cards by Sunday (Dec 28)—otherwise a crackdown will be started against these companies,” a senior official of ministry of interior told The Express Tribune on Wednesday. He said Intelligence agencies are also trying to catch the former employee of a cellular company, who issued five SIM cards on the name of a woman hailing from South Punjab. These SIM cards were later used in the recent Peshawar school attack,” he said.
He said that since 2003, more than 115 current or former employees of these cellular companies are wanted in 365 terrorism related incidents. “These accused had issued illegal SIM cards to customers, who later used them in executing terror attacks,” he explained.
“In view of the misuse of SIM cards, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has also called a meeting of all regulators –cellular phone companies, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as well as ministries of information technology and law and justice and human rights to discuss all the issues on Monday, December 29,” he added.
He said the FIA also believes that around 20,567 SIM cards of various Afghan telecom companies are operational along the border in Pakistan.
According to a PTA official, the government is deliberating to amend the PTA laws and is thinking about including name of cellular companies in terrorism related cases if SIM cards are used in such incidents.
“The amended laws will help National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), the FIA and courts to track identity of those who will misuse the SIM cards,” PTA official added.
He said some modifications will also be made in existing laws of PTA Act which states: “Following a war or hostilities against Pakistan by any foreign power or internal aggression or for the defense or security of Pakistan—the federal government may suspend or modify all or any order or licences made or issued under this Act or cause suspension of operation, functions or services of any licensee for such time as it may deem necessary.”
Law expert Afnan Kundi said Pakistan Telecom Act should be further amended to ensure national security.
Another senior lawyer Babar Sattar also suggested setting new conditions for cellular companies as well as the customers. “The new laws must bound companies to seek proper verification from the customers,” he said.
The PTA’s official spokesperson said: “The PTA is in the process of making a comprehensive strategy to deal with this issue.”
*Correction: An earlier version of the story did not include the PTA spokesperson’s statement
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2014.