Government-cellular companies at impasse over five SIM limit, SCPakistan
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was told that a series of meetings between the telecom regulator, cellular companies and security agencies cut no ice over the issue of removing the maximum limit ban of five SIM cards per individual.
No consensus could be reached in the meetings – the last of which was held on Oct 5 – according to a report submitted by Additional Attorney General Muhammad Waqar Rana.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali had taken up a petition moved by a China Mobile/Zong, seeking directions for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to not apply the maximum limit of five SIMs per identity card.
Also read: PTA ‘reluctant’ to give details of blocked SIMs
Being a 4G licencee, the company has also sought clarification from the court on whether this limit applies to data-only SIMs, which the company is issuing separately for Internet browsing but cannot be used for phone calls and text messages, unlike PTCL devices.
However, the court decided to club the matter with another similar petition, filed by the president of the Balochistan High Court Bar Association.
The limit of five SIMs per identity card was imposed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in a May 21, 2012 verdict, issued while hearing a matter related to the worsening law and order situation in Karachi. The verdict had ordered PTA not to allow the activation of more than five SIMs per identity card.
At the last hearing on Sept 3, 2015, the Supreme Court had ordered Attorney General (AG) Salman Aslam Butt to sort out the matter by convening a meeting between the PTA chairman, the petitioner company and other service providers and the security agencies.
Subsequently, the AG called a meeting in his office on Sept 9, but no decision could be reached, the government report said. As a follow-up another meeting was convened by PTA on Sept 17 at PTA Headquarters, but again no decision could be taken.
A final consultative meeting was held on Oct 5 at the Ministry of Information Technology (IT), chaired by the IT secretary, but ended without making any headway, the report explained. However, the government proposed quarterly review process in view of continuing security concerns.
In one of the meetings, PTA Chairman Ismail Shah had taken the stance that relaxing the limit of five SIMs per identity card would help promote growth in the telecom sector, especially with the introduction of biometric verification. He explained that the implementation of this verification system had helped reduce the number of active SIMs from 140 million from 114 million.
On the other hand, representatives of the ministries of defence and interior and security agencies were of the view that as long as the National Action Plan (NAP) was in force, the limit of five SIMs per identity card should be maintained for both data and voice SIMs.
Agreeing that there may be certain advantages of relaxing the limit, they maintained that it would not be advisable to relax the limit for security reasons. Once the security improves, they said, the limit could be reviewed in consultation with stakeholders.
Cellular companies’ representatives, however, were adamant that while they had whole-heartedly accepted and supported the implementation of biometric verification and were willing to do whatever was necessary to protect national security, the limit of five SIMs per individual made things unviable for them by reducing the possible number of users.
In its petition, Zong explained that voice SIMs and data-only SIMS were two distinct categories and any limit imposed on the former should not be applicable to the latter, a practice already being followed in the market by another telecom utility and allowed by the PTA.
Applying the ban would make the 4G licence practically redundant and would amount to depriving the applicant benefit from its 4G licence and the huge investment it had made.
The petition explained that data-only SIMs were sold for as part of a dongle, with voice call capabilities disabled since it was meant for Internet use on laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2015
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