Pakistan’s Mobile Subscribers Are Required to Fingerprint

Tens of millions of Pakistanis show up in the mobile phone stores nowadays, and the country’s government had to toughen its measures to curb terrorism. So, Pakistanis faced one of the largest efforts in the world to collect biometric data: their government has ordered mobile phone users to verify their identities through fingerprints. Those who refuse will lose their SIM cards, which is an unthinkable option for people who have enjoyed a dozen years of mobile phone usage.
Pakistan government seems to be concerned about a proliferation of illegal and untraceable SIM cards and tries to restore law and order. Back in December 2014, Taliban militants killed students and teachers at a school, and it turned out that 6 terrorists were using phones registered to one woman with no obvious connection to terrorists.

Security experts point out that matching people to phone numbers would require an enormous amount of work. At the moment, there are 103 million SIM cards in the country, which is almost the number of the adult population, and mobile providers have 6 more weeks to verify the owners of all of the SIM cards. Over the past 6 weeks, 53 million cards that belonged to 38 million residents have been verified via fingerprinting. The government claimed that after they verified all of the SIM cards and blocked all unverified cards, the terrorists would no longer have this tool.

First mobile phone company was set up in the country 24 years ago, but there was only sparse usage until the 21st century. Over the last dozen years, the number of mobile subscribers has increased from 5 million to 136 million. The mobile phone subscription rate in the country reaches 73% – just like in neighboring India. Given that 50 million more SIM cards are yet to be verified, mobile phone companies send outreach teams to the countryside and mountains to notify subscribers of the new measures.

The weak spot of the plan is that one region remains largely unaffected by the plan – it is an immediate area around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Since many Islamist militants have sought refuge there, the country’s cellphone networks generally don’t cover those areas, and residents have to use Afghan networks.

The collected fingerprints are being matched with those from a national database being created since 2005, so people those whose prints are not yet in that database must first submit them to registration authority.


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