Murphy's Law: Cell Phone Shutdown Stymied Again


May 1, 2010:  For the third time, Pakistan is attempting to shut down cell phones owned by anonymous users. This time, over eleven percent of 88 million SIM cards have been blocked. Last year, this effort was stymied because, in the tribal territories, dealers are not obeying new rules that required them to get positive ID from cell phones buyers. Two years ago, the government blocked the use of 10.5 million unregistered (anonymous) SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for cell phones. But the bad guys figured out how to get around that.

These SIM cards are the type favored by gangsters and terrorists. In most parts of the world, you can move your cell phone service from one phone to another by simply removing the small (25x14mm) SIM "card" from one phone and inserting it in another. SIM cards can also be bought just for the minutes stored on them. Police have long noticed that terrorist bombs are often set off using a cell phone with an anonymous SIM card. It's not uncommon to raid a terrorist hideout and find hundreds of anonymous SIM cards.

Two years ago, there was already a thriving Pakistani black market in SIM cards that were registered with phony information. The Taliban and drug gangs know of their vulnerability, and cannot run their operations without these communications tools. Gangsters in other parts of the world have developed ways to lessen SIM card vulnerability, and the terrorists are learning as fast as they can. In the meantime, it's getting them killed or captured when they use easily identifiable SIM cards.

It was believed that, with anonymous cards more difficult to get, it would be easier to track down bombs that use cell phones for detonation. But Pakistan is a very corrupt place, and merchants were able to circumvent the new regulations by simply bribing any police who came by to check SIM card registration. The cell phone companies also resist these government crackdowns, as it is bad for business.





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