By Josh Paniagua
In November 2012, Pakistani officials announced their plans for mandatory biometric registration for all mobile devices. Now, after a lengthy delay, the policy is now being enforced on all 136 million mobile subscribers in Pakistan.
In what appears to be the hastiest gathering of biometric verification in history, millions of Pakistanis are forming massive lines outside of their mobile provider outlets waiting to register their fingerprints with their SIM card.
Pakistani officials assert that it is just a measure to fight the ongoing terrorism they are facing from Islamist extremism which is persistent for many reasons in Pakistan. The initiative is particularly timely with recent memory of the attack carried out on a school by alleged Islamic militants that left 150 people dead.
Ammar Jaffri, President of the Pakistan Information Security Association (PISA), has noted that cell phones are used to detonate bombs and extort people anonymously; and with the high number of unverified SIM cards (around 103 million at the beginning of the year), it makes suspect identification more difficult.
So, essentially, the Pakistani government plans to fight terrorism and bring peace by ensuring every active SIM card in Pakistan has a verified identity behind it. As of their last report, about 53 million of the 103 million unverified SIM cards have been registered.
Surely the Pakistani government can’t honestly believe that this will work as if stolen cell phones, radios, and various ways to detonate a bomb weren’t a reality for the particularly motivated militant.
It should also be considered that mobile service from Pakistan doesn’t generally cover the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which just so happens to be quite the popular haven for extremists. Residents in that area rely on Afghan networks for mobile service, making this motion not only impractical, but highly suspicious. In fact, Mr. Jaffri had this to say:
We have new technology now, and we shouldn’t be afraid of these things, we should face it […] Watching people when they move, it’s natural. Every country does it.
Additionally, Jaffri believes that Pakistanis need to accept that when you buy a phone, the SIM card “becomes part of you” and privacy doesn’t overrule government controlling the airwaves.
All Pakistanis with mobile devices have until April 12th to register their fingerprints with their SIM card or lose mobile service; except, of course, for the militants at the border using Afghan service.