Pakistan collects mobile users’ fingerprints to verify their identities

Islamic Extremism

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Pakistan is collecting its mobile users’ fingerprints nationwide in an effort to create a national biometric database in hope of preventing terrorism in the country.

Mobile users are asked to submit their fingerprints in order to verify their identities. According to the government, over 100 million SIM cards need to be verified before April 15 this year, at which point all unverified cell phone numbers will be blocked.

The measure is a response to the Taliban school massacre in Peshawar last December, where more than 140 students and teachers were killed. In the days leading up to the massacre, the six perpetrators communicated through mobile phones that were registered to one Peshawar woman who was unrelated to the attack.

All the mobile phone counters in markets are equipped with fingerprint scanners, and each of them belongs to a different mobile service provider. Mobile users only need to submit their identification cards and phone numbers, and then have their fingerprints scanned. The government will relate the identities to users’ mobile numbers. The whole process only takes one minute.

The fingerprint collection started on January 15 this year, and counters collect about 200 fingerprints per day. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, 70 percent of the mobile users had been verified as of the beginning of March. Many Pakistanis said they support the program.

“I got the message in advance and come to submit my fingerprint for verification. This is a very good action. If there are any other SIM cards under my name which I don’t know, I will have them blocked,” Ejaz Raja, an Islamabad resident said.

In Pakistan, each person is allowed to have up to five SIM cards from different mobile service providers, but most of them only use one to two cards. Still, verifying over 100 million SIM cards within three months is no easy task.

“People understand the criticality of the situation and they are also coming to our franchises, our clients and the retailers, to get their SIMs verified. But the people who are living in rural areas, they will be facing some difficulty. For that Zong has employed approximately 600 people just to get these persons verified. So we are committed and we are doing that,” Faheem Mumtaz, sales director of Zong, a Pakistani mobile service provider said.

After creation of the national biometric database, it will be easier for authorities to trace terrorists. However, in order to eliminate the terrorism at the root, more measures need to be adopted.

“I think it’s an important step in the national plan to combat terrorism. But let’s be very clear, bad people will find ways to do bad things. What this system allows is for law enforcement to have a more effective tool, a more precise tool, when they need to know who is using a phone. But it is not full proof, it’s not in itself, solution to the problem of terrorism,” Michael Foley, CEO of the Telenor Group, a Pakistani mobile service provider said.

Report from CCTV News.