Foreign embassies still passively monitoring cell phone calls

ISLAMABAD – Key government functionaries have been advised to preferably use landline phones for discussing official matters and switch over to 4G internet networks, as the foreign embassies have reportedly continued passive monitoring of the mobile phone calls, The Nation has learnt.

According to well-placed sources, an intelligence agency has brought to the notice of the government that a few foreign intelligence services/embassies have developed the capability of passive monitoring of mobile phone calls of key government officials functioning within 10km radius of the Diplomatic Enclave here.

The efforts are directed to retrieve sensitive information of their interest, a confidential report prepared by the intelligence agency and circulated among employees of the vital federal ministries said.

The circular – dated October 2017 – has advised the government functionaries to switch over from 2G/3G to 4G network so as to frustrate the foreign embassies’ bid of mobile phone monitoring. It further said that they should rely on the use of landline numbers to discuss the official matters whenever required. The state functionaries have been advised to follow the precautionary measures.

The circular has suggested that only authorised users be allowed to carry mobile phones inside the offices. They have been asked to use secure mobile phones by important subscribers. The information has been shared with the employees for compliance in public interest. Some other government offices have also been approached for further appropriate action in this regard.

The issue of phone tapping by the foreign embassies in Pakistan is quite old now. In 2015, the Senate had ordered a standing committee to conduct a detailed probe of the statement by the former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik, in which he claimed that some foreign embassies in Islamabad were involved in tapping phone calls of important personalities in Pakistan. The issue of bugging the phone calls was taken up with the US authorities in 2013 but the practice is still going on.

Muhammad Waqas, who is serving a local telecom company for the last seven years, is of the opinion that 3G and 4G are more secure than 2G mobile broadband internet. He told The Nation that a voice call on 3G and 4G internet also involved some software as WhatsApp or Messenger which provide additional security. On the other hand, he said, a call on 2G internet is simple and easy to be intercepted by matching the frequency.

It further depends on the operator how it takes care of security. Giving an example, he said, now messages on WhatsApp are secured with end-to-end encryption.

The G of course means generation. Cell phones and systems are classified by the generation they belong to. Third generation (3G) phones were developed in late 1990s and 2000s. The goal was to improve the data capability and speed. The main difference between 3G and 4G is speed. 4G brings speeds of up to ten times faster than 3G.


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