ISLAMABAD - Expressing grave concern over the growing use of non-registered SIMs by the criminals, extortionists and kidnappers, Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control on Wednesday prodded officials of ministries of interior, information technology and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for taking concrete steps to stop use of millions of illegal SIMs.

The committee met on Wednesday with Muhammad Talha Mehmood in chair. The chairman and other members grilled the concerned officials for failing to stop the widespread use of illegal and unregistered SIMs in criminal activities.

Annoyed over the non-serious attitude of concerned officials of Interior Ministry, the chairman said he would advise the government to take action against them in case if the non-registered SIM was used in any crime. He directed that the information technology ministry to take measures for utilizing Rs 60 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) for installing biometric and security systems in order to stop use of unregistered SIMs and to trace call records of SIMs used in criminal activities. 

Senator Talha disclosed that mobile companies were paying zero income tax, claiming for years that they were running into losses. The companies were not even sharing details of revenues earned by them, he stated. The chairman directed FBR to provide the committee details of foreign exchange repatriated by the telecom companies from Pakistan since start of their business operations.

Acting Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Dr Syed Ismail Shah informed that 22.59 million unverified and unregistered SIMs had been blocked so far. Surprisingly the IT and PTA officials were not sure about total number of SIMs in use in the country but according to an interior ministry official more than one million SIMs were in use. The chairman pointed out that Afghan SIMs were used in crimes like kidnap for ransom in Pakistan. “The criminals sitting in Pakistani cities are using Afghan SIMs in kidnapping for ransom using roaming services,” said Senator Talha. He said interior and IT ministries and PTA should take up the issue of misuse of roaming service with the Afghan government and look into the government’s agreements with other countries.       

Senator Talha said millions of mobile sets without IMEI numbers were being used, because of which identification of users was not possible. The committee recommended that Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police should be given access to SIMs data on real time basis for action against criminals.  For this purpose, a unit at the interior ministry should be created to respond to requests of FIA and police round the clock.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid called for strict action against mobile companies whose SIMs were used in terrorist acts.

He said PTA had fully taken care of the interests of cellular companies but it completely failed in looking after interests of citizens and the state. The committee was informed that biometric system would be introduced at franchises and sale points of mobile companies in a year to stop use of illegal SIMs by getting fingerprints of connection users. Director General Nadra Muzaffar Ali informed that loopholes emerged in the sale of SIMs on basis of CNICs as the secret data mentioning mother’s name and place of birth was now openly available in CDs in the market. The data became available because of electoral rolls issued by the Election Commission as part of its constitutional obligation to facilitate candidates and voters, he added. An official of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) informed the meeting that 3.7 million mobile sets were imported during the current financial year and FBR charges custom duty of Rs 250 on every set and Rs 500 on activation of a SIM. The committee also sought record of imports of mobile phones by a company Q Mobile.