To counter the growing menace of terrorism, the Pakistan government has ordered all mobile service companies to acquire fingerprint scans of their subscribers before April 15. Subscribers failing to do so will get their mobile subscription terminated.
Pakistan is determined to prevent terrorists from using untraceable cellphone accounts to coordinate attacks like that in Peshawar, even if it means eroding civil liberties in the process. The country has ordered cellphone users to have their SIM cards linked with fingerprints. Mobile companies have been ordered to setup booths and enhance workforce to accelerate collection of biometric identification of their subscribers across the nation.
There are over a 103 million active mobile SIM cards circulating in the country that need to be tied down to the owners’ fingerprints. The owners who fail to register their fingerprints will have cellphone numbers blocked. Pakistan says it is compelled to undertake such a massive exercise after the Taliban launched an attack on a school that left 150 people dead, among which most were innocent children.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that the terrorists used mainstream mobile connections obtained fraudulently, to communicate with each other. Five of the six perpetrators who were gunned down, had mobile phones which do not have legitimate or traceable owners, while one of the mobile numbers belonged to an innocent Peshawar woman who was unrelated to the attack. According to the police she had no idea her name was registered with the mobile number.
It is quite easy to obtain a mobile connection by forging a few documents. Moreover, Pakistan allows each person to own five mobile connections. Citizens of Pakistan mostly rely on prepaid connections and owing to lax norms till date, it has been quite easy to buy an active connection, without the actual registered owner knowing about it.
Authorities claim, after creation of the national biometric database, it will be easier for authorities to trace terrorists. Interestingly, since Pakistan’s decade-long struggle against Islamist extremism has stretched on, residents have grown accustomed to hassles such as long security lines and police checkpoints. Hence standing in serpentine queues just to get their fingerprints scanned and registered with a legitimate mobile number, shouldn’t be any more than a minor inconvenience.
With just 10 days to go till the unverified accounts get disconnected, mobile companies still have to register about 50 million fingerprints with mobile connections. Though the measures seem a right step towards curbing access to mobile communication by terrorists, these people can always get a mobile connection from neighboring Afghanistan.
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