ISLAMABAD - Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications on Thursday directed Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to extend its October 20, 2018 deadline for one month about blocking of unregistered IMEI mobile phones.

The Committee met with Senator Rubina Khalid in chair where matter of a message being circulated by PTA regarding non-compliant devices being dysfunctional after October 20, 2018 was discussed in detail.

The Committee sought more details on the issue and directed PTA to extend the deadline of October 20 for one month until Committee's complete comprehension about Device Identification,Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) which is being introduced to curb illegal mobile phone imports.

Chairperson Senator Rubina Khalid set October 24 as another date for PTA to brief the Committee on the system and observed the new initiative would affect public/consumers at large. The meeting was also attended by Senators including Shibli Faraz, Rehman Malik, Mian Muhammad Ateeq Shaikh, Sana Jamali, Taj Muhammad Afridi, Fida Muhammad, Dr. Ashok Kumar, Muhammad Tahir Bizenjo and senior officials from Ministry of IT and Telecom and PTA.

The Parliamentary panel sought a comprehensive briefing from PTA regarding its decision to block un-registered IMEI mobile phones while raising questions on non-action against dealers/importers and delay in implementation of policy directives.

The Committee asked PTA to consider the fact that not all of the 150 million mobile users can understand this message and do not have enough time to check the status of their phones or cannot afford to buy new phones altogether. The Committee also raised questions over DIRBS. They wanted to know how a system worth millions of rupees was procured and who sponsored it. Rubina Khalid said that the Committee agreed with the initiative but at the same is also worried about interests of mobile phone consumers.

She said that the public was still confused about this IMEI issue and they needed to be well-informed about the matter through massive media campaigns. Most of the consumers had no idea about the system, she said and directed PTA to aware the consumers in a befitting manner so that they could understand the objectives of the initiative. Senators Shibli Faraz, Rehman Malik and Atteeq Shaikh questioned whether the PTA took authorities concerned on-board.

Senator Ateeq Shaikh termed it a move against PTI-led government and said the matter involved around 150 million mobile phone consumers who belonged to different segment of society. Majority of consumers could not even comprehend the circulated text messages which had been issued by PTA, he added.

The Committee members also took notice of absence of Minister for IT, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Secretary IT in the meeting, stating without their presence a decision on this important matter cannot be taken. In a presentation, Chairman/Member Finance PTA, Muhammad Naveed informed that the mechanism had been evolved to ensure healthy growth of mobile devices eco-system in Pakistan.

He said that the authority had sensitised the consumers through Short Messaging Service regarding method for registration of their cellular devices. The user could verify his/her handset's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number by sending a message on 8484 or on website: www.dirbs.pta.gov.pk or by downloading DIRBS Android mobile application from Google Play Store.

Naveed said that the PTA finalised this policy after holding a consultation with all stakeholders. He said that the system facilitates legitimate device importers and mobile device users and improve overall security situation.

There are four categories of responses that can be received by a subscriber inquiring about status of its IMEI as explained below:

A Compliant Devices are PTA type approved and legally imported in Pakistan, Valid Devices are such devices where the IMEI of mobile device is valid (GSMA approved), however, it is not PTA compliant/approved.

In order to facilitate such users, PTA will auto register all such IMEIs which are observed on mobile network before October 20 and their status will be compliant after-this-date. For auto registration, users are advised to do any revenue generating activity i.e. make any call, send a SMS or use mobile internet.

Non-Compliant devices are such devices where IMEI is either not allocated by GSMA or it is duplicated. To facilitate such users, PTA will auto pair all such IMEIs which are observed on mobile network with specific SIMs.

In order to auto pair all the IMEIs related to this mobile device, users are advised to do any revenue generating activity from their SIM(s), i.e. make any call, send a SMS or use mobile internet from their SIM(s). The blocked devices indicate that your IMEI is blocked as this IMEI has been reported stolen earlier. This is a phase-wise process that will take a few months to be completed. The telecom authority is carrying out awareness campaigns in different cities to educate the public.

It was also informed that illegal and unregistered mobile handsets are a threat to public security as terrorists and criminals cannot be traced using mobile phones for any dangerous activity throughout the country.

In most of the cases, it has been observed that mobile handsets, usually without any identity, are used in criminal activities. These handsets are either brought from other countries, local market, or these were snatched or stolen from the public.