Aug 9, 2008

India - Buying sim cards may need 2 guarantors

NEW DELHI: If the home ministry has its way, a person wanting to buy a SIM card will have to provide the names of two existing mobile phone customers as guarantors - on the lines of opening a bank account - before he gets the connection. This will be in addition to other requirements like identity and residential address proof.

This is among several measures suggested by the home ministry to the department of telecommunications (DoT) in its bid to stop terrorists from using mobile phones to launch attacks in the country - by using it to trigger blasts and also to keep in touch with each other.

These and other issues were discussed at a meeting convened by the home ministry with chief secretaries and police chiefs of states here on Friday.

Mobile phones are being rampantly used by terrorists, who have not only been using phones to trigger IEDs - as they did to attack Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in May last year - but also to pass messages to their handlers across the border.

The home ministry has also suggested that DoT come out with guidelines that make it mandatory for SIM card vendors to take instant photographs of new customers using web cameras.

These should then be passed on to the service provider with reference number. Though the issue had come up before the ministry after the Mecca Masjid blast investigation, the matter has not been resolved as DoT is still in the process of consultations.

Incidentally, the CBI, which is investigating the Mecca blasts case, had hit a dead end when it found that the perpetrators of the crime had not only used fake address to get the SIM cards but they had also used photographs of a Noida-based yoga teacher to procure the connection.

"We wanted to have a mechanism where a common person can get a SIM card without any hassles and other security concerns are also met," home secretary Madhukar Gupta said after the meeting. To drive home his point, he cited a case where one person had been issued 50 SIM cards in a period of three months.

Besides expressing the need for strict guidelines for new mobile connections, the officials also discussed ways to strengthen the intelligence mechanism and modalities to pass on terror-related cases for investigation to central agencies like CBI at the earliest.

The meeting - chaired by the home secretary - also deliberated upon the suggestion of setting up a central committee comprising representatives from states to decided about the nature of specific cases which could be passed on to the CBI for investigation. Making it clear that the Centre had no intention of intruding into the jurisdiction of any state with a federal system in policing, Gupta said the Centre was looking for an enforcement agency which will have "power to investigate and ability to gather intelligence".

A committee could be constituted which could immediately look at a case and see whether it has any inter-state, international and other ramifications, he added.

"So institutionally, there will be an in built mechanism for consultations with the state through the representation of the state through these chief secretaries and the DGPs," Gupta said while replying to a question whether there was any discussion on forming a federal agency.

"We did have a discussion on federal agency. There are two things - federal crime and federal agency. There is no relevance of federal crime in India. This is a concept in the US where every state has its own definition of every crime. In India, every penal law is a federal law... so there is no question of federal crime," Gupta said.

"Investigation of any terrorism case is not possible though a single agency. So what we are really looking at is - the cases where there are inter-state and international linkages, arms and drugs smuggling, it is difficult for any state agency to get to the bottom of the case," he added.

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