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Technology

Pakistan to block smuggled and counterfeit cell phones

Illegal mobile phones are often difficult to trace and used by criminals and terrorists, officials say.

By Adeel Saeed


Model Customs Collectorate officials examine and register seized mobile phones at Peshawar International Airport February 24. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has established a system to curb the use of smuggled or unregistered mobile phones. [Model Customs Collectorate Peshawar]

Model Customs Collectorate officials examine and register seized mobile phones at Peshawar International Airport February 24. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has established a system to curb the use of smuggled or unregistered mobile phones. [Model Customs Collectorate Peshawar]

PESHAWAR -- The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the nation's telecom watchdog, is setting up a new system to block the use of illegally imported and counterfeit mobile phones.

A new nationwide system called Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) will operate as a Centralised Equipment Identity Register, a database of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers of blacklisted mobile phones.

Once DIRBS is in place, smuggled mobiles with fake or stolen IMEI numbers will not be able to operate on Pakistani mobile networks, discouraging smuggling.

"DIRBS has been finalised and approved through consultation with all stakeholders, and the tentative deadline for its formal launching is December," PTA Deputy Director Nasir Ali Khan told Pakistan Forward.

"The system is designed to help in identifying counterfeit and illegally imported mobile handsets in the country, which avoid tax collection and contribute to security issues [through the] misuse of devices by criminals, fraudsters and terrorists," he said.

Under the regulations, unregistered mobile phones will not be able to be connected to the system of cellular companies, he said. The system will also help in blocking stolen phones if their IMEI numbers are registered.

Millions of illegal phones

PTA devised DIRBS to block smuggled and non-IMEI numbers based on requests from intelligence agencies and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), reported FLARE, a Pakistani telecom and IT business news magazine.

In its August edition, FLARE reported that about one million handsets are smuggled into Pakistan annually, costing the treasury Rs. 15 billion ($150 million) per year in lost revenue, according to official figures.

Unofficial estimates put the number much higher at five to six million smuggled mobiles annually, with a loss of about Rs. 75 billion ($750 million).

"It is the right decision to set up such [a system] because the Customs Department is seizing many smuggled mobile phones every day at different airports," Collector Customs Peshawar Gul Rahman told Pakistan Forward.

For example, on November 4, Karachi customs officials seized 64,000 smuggled mobiles with an estimated market value of about Rs. 350 million ($3.5 million).

The phones were falsely declared as LED lights and bulbs, said officials. Authorities later confiscated 80,000 mobiles at a house in Karachi.

FBR has been demanding an end to the smuggling of such mobiles, which create security problems, said Rahman.

"After we install a blocking system, the illegal importation of such devices will diminish naturally," he said.

"The Customs Department will fully co-operate with PTA and other concerned departments in the implementation of DIRBS for ensuring public safety [and preventing the] theft of the country's revenue... in billions of rupees," Rahman said.

A major security issue

"This is a step in the right direction because there were many complaints about criminal misuse of imported mobiles for terrorism," Nisar Awan, president of the Central Organisation of Traders of Mobile Accessories Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told Pakistan Forward.

"Anything that poses a security danger should be blocked or eliminated," he said.

"Smuggled mobile phones were posing serious security threats because of the difficulty in tracing their owners," he said.

"After the installation of DIRBS, the cellular companies will be forced to provide service to only mobile devices that are registered with the system through IMEI and Computerised National Identity Card [CNIC] numbers. This will help curb misuse for subversive activities," Awan said.

Awan expressed appreciation for the role of PTA and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in Pakistan's ongoing war against terrorism.

"Both organisations have helped the country's security forces by registering about 103 million mobile SIM [subscriber identity module] cards biometrically and by blocking two million unregistered cards," he said.

Awan promised full co-operation from the trading community to make DIRBS successful.

"Anything in favour of public safety and the security of our compatriots has our full support," he said.

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