Dec 4, 2008

India - Mobile user identification dangerously poor

Sandeep Joshi

Out of a 35-crore subscriber base in India, identities of almost seven crore could be in doubt

Despite warnings, operators have not taken verification process seriously

State-owned BSNL, MTNL have the worst record

NEW DELHI: Even as security agencies are trying to find out details of the five mobile SIM (subscriber identity module) cards recovered from the terrorists after last week’s Mumbai attacks, government data reveals that mobile operators have failed miserably in subscriber identification, putting national security at risk.

The Union Home Ministry as well as the Communications Ministry has issued strict instructions to all operators to thoroughly check and maintain details of all mobile subscribers, particularly those purchasing new SIM cards.

DoT data

However, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) data reveals that identification details of 15-20 per cent subscribers are not verifiable. This means that in India, which has the world’s second largest mobile subscriber base of 35 crore, the identities of almost seven crore subscribers could be in doubt.

As per the DoT data updated till June this year, all leading operators fared badly in photo identity and address (PIA) identification and verification of customer acquisition forms (CAF). A CAF verification of Bharti Airtel with over eight crore subscribers showed that only 83.3 per cent of them could be verified. This shows that the credentials of over one crore of its subscribers are in doubt.

In the case of Vodafone-Hutch that has over five crore subscribers, the CAF of only 78.3 per cent could be verified, leaving the identity of over one crore of them in doubt.

Reliance Communications has over four crore subscribers, of whom the CAF details of only 80 per cent could be verified.

In the case of Idea Cellular and Tata Teleservices with over three crore users each, the CAF particulars of only 75 over cent subscribers could be matched.

Ironically, the worst record is that of the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. The CAF details of only 60 per cent could matched in the case of BSNL, which has around four crore subscribers, while in MTNL that has operations in two terrorism-affected metros — Delhi and Mumbai — the CAF details of only 63 per cent could be verified.

Despite repeated warnings, mobile operators have failed to take the CAF verification process seriously.

Mecca Masjid blasts

It was only after the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad last year did the Centre impose strict rules on the issuance of SIM cards by mobile operators, which included Rs.1,000 fine for every unverified card. However, the DoT has failed to penalise errant operators.

In the Hyderabad blasts, the terrorists used cellphones to trigger improvised explosive devices and sent text messages to their handlers in Pakistan.

In Mumbai too, the terrorists, who procured three SIM cards from Delhi and two from Kolkata, remained in constant touch with their commanders in Pakistan during their 60-hour siege of India’s financial capital.

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