International Travelers’ Data Was Misused for Illegal Registration of Mobile Phones: PTA

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Wednesday confessed that leakage of passenger’s data was used for illegal registration of mobile devices (through DIRBS) with connivance of travel agents and the data available at airports.

PTA has sent 750 cases of data theft to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and several arrests have been made so far, revealed Member Compliance & Enforcement PTA Dr Khawar Siddique while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication.

The committee met with Rubina Khalid in the chair where the misuse of passengers’ data acquired during the process of mobile registration was discussed.

The committee was told by PTA that the leakage of passenger’s data acquired during the process of mobile registration is being misused with connivance of travel agents and the data available at airport.

The Committee, however, observed that mobile phones are also being registered in the names of children and it cannot happen without the involvement of internal resources.

The Committee strongly proposed having a fool proof system in place to ensure the security of data before hand and then putting up such system available to the public.

The Committee members remarked that the system was launched to curb smuggling but it has done less good and more problems for customers.

The PTA official told the meeting that mobile registration system has become totally automated and the system has been integrated with FBR and is highly secure.

The Committee, however, did not buy the argument that the system is causing any inconvenience. The Committee members said that smuggling is there because there is no mobile phone manufacturing industry in the country and phones are being smuggled in huge numbers till date.

The Committee members also said that the committee has not been given any numbers relating to DIRBS.

The PTA told the committee that 663,622 individual users registered themselves with DIRBS since February, 2019. Out of these 440,821 were registered under FBR baggage rule exemption with no tax, 12,293 were registered under duty paid category.

It was told that that against 5.89 million commercial mobile phone importers in first four months of 2016, an increase to 9.27 million commercially imported phones were registered during the same period of 2019.

The Committee observed that the system put in place by PTA and FBR is not properly publicized in public and decided to call FBR and FIA in next meeting to brief the committee on the system in addition to a briefing by PTA.

PTA officials informed the committee that the misuse of data is being done in violation of FRB baggage rule law where user credentials including passport and CNIC are being used for getting registration under FBR baggage rule exemption.

While discussing the matter of the nominal cost (of around Rs. 2,000) being taken by shopkeepers to register smuggled smartphones, the member PTA told the committee that this is happening due to same misuse of passenger’s information which is sold to these shopkeepers who then use the passengers’ details to register smuggled phones. He said that PTA on receiving complaints refers the inquiry to FIA.

IMEI cloning is also being done where a fake device is reprogrammed with a PTA complaint IMEI. Under Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA 2017) rule 18, which is an offense and can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.

The meeting was attended among others by Senators Kalsoom Parveen, Rukhsana Zuberi, Faisal Javed, Ghous Muhammad Niazi, Abdur Rehman Malik, Mian Ateeq Shaikh, Taj Afridi, Joint Secretary IT Taimur Khan and Member PTA Khawar Siddique.