“Pakistanis’ Choice: Verify Identity or Forgo Cellphone”
The Washington Post, February 24, 2015, p.A1
“Cellphones didn’t just arrive in Pakistan. But someone could be fooled into thinking otherwise, considering the tens of millions of Pakistanis pouring into mobile phone stores these days. In one of the world’s largest — and fastest — efforts to collect biometric information, Pakistan has ordered cellphone users to verify their identities through fingerprints for a national database being compiled to curb terrorism. If they don’t, their service will be shut off, an unthinkable option for many after a dozen years of explosive growth in cellphone usage here. Prompted by concerns about a proliferation of illegal and untraceable SIM cards, the directive is the most visible step so far in Pakistan’s efforts to restore law and order after Taliban militants killed 150 students and teachers at a school in December. … But the effort to match one person to each cellphone number involves a jaw-dropping amount of work. At the start of this year, there were 103 million SIM cards in Pakistan — roughly the number of the adult population — that officials were not sure were valid or properly registered. … In the past six weeks, 53 million SIMs belonging to 38 million residents have been verified through biometric screening, officials said. … One region that appears largely unaffected by the plan is the immediate area around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where many Islamist militants have historically sought refuge. Pakistani cellphone networks generally do not provide service to those areas, and residents try to get coverage from Afghan networks, officials said. … Still, many Pakistanis are taking the process in stride, saying they are willing to do whatever it takes to reduce terrorism. They are skeptical, however, that this will be the answer to ending a war that has killed more than 50,000 Pakistani residents and soldiers over the past 13 years.”
Quickie Analysis: Seems to be a not-atypical Pakistani government response: heavy-handed, inconvenient, and won’t actually help the worst of the problem.