PESHAWAR -- Pakistan is working on a plan to regulate mobile phones to reduce the incidence of theft and use of unregistered phones in terrorist activities and other crimes.
October 20 was the original date all unregistered mobile handsets would have become inactive, but the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) delayed implementation of the Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) to give authorities ample time to notify the public.
"It was creating panic, which we don't want," Rubina Khalid, chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, told Pakistan Forward October 25. "We want to regulate phones, but users should be informed before the services are stopped."
"We have stalled implementation of the plan for now," she said.
Authorities intend to implement the programme soon after they run awareness campaigns in the media and cell phone shops, informing the public about the change.
Reducing crime, terrorism
"The measure will reduce crimes like thefts of mobile phones, robberies and terrorism," argued Hidayat Ur Rehman, a former police officer in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
"When mobile handsets are registered with the government, the owners can't use them for criminal purposes," he told Pakistan Forward.
In the past, terrorists have used mobile phones to activate bombs, among other misuses of the technology.
DIRBS will help curb mobile phone snatching because stolen phones will not be usable, said Akbar Khan, a police official at the Forensic Science Laboratory in Peshawar.
"It will also reduce general crimes as police will be able to track down any registered number used by criminals," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that the police were previously unable to trace illegal mobile phones.
The new plan will also help disrupt the communication networks of terrorists, said Peshawar-based senior security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah.
"This plan will deal a serious blow to the militant organisations who rely on mobile phones in conducting acts of terrorism," he told Pakistan Forward.
Benefits to government, phone dealers
The new system could boost the government's annual tax revenues by $170 million to $200 million (Rs. 22 billion to Rs. 26 billion), said PTA Director General for Services Talib Dogar, according to Dawn.
"We recommend buying only PTA-approved phone sets," he said, adding that consumers should text the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number printed on the box of a new handset to 8484 before buying the handset to ensure that it complies with regulatory standards.
IMEI is a unique number used to identify mobile phones.
Consumers who want to use a new subscriber identity module (SIM) card with an existing handset "will be required to register the phone's IMEI with the PTA within two weeks," Dogar explained.
This procedure will help mobile phone operators, distributors and consumers alike, he said.
The sale of unregistered mobile phones has harmed Pakistan's economy as well as aiding criminals and terrorists, said Salim Khan, a mobile phone shop owner in Peshawar.