The 60-40 ratio
As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to have the right not to hand over my mobile phone to every other kid who rides a motor bike and keeps a TT in his pocket to facilitate negotiations. I would also like to retain my right not to be unceremoniously booted out from my own car after being forced to surrender my car keys, wallet, watch, and dignity to a similar stranger. We seem to have rapidly deteriorated into a 60-40 society. Those of us who read the daily newspapers would be familiar with the fixed ratio of 60 phones and 40 vehicles snatched each day. This is a standard pre-determined number that must be snatched each day, as if to meet a target given by a mafia chief.
Newspapers rather sheepishly inform us that the reported number of snatched mobile phones is 60 per day. They do not tell us the real number, which is close to 500 phones per day. Most people would hate to undergo the additional indignity and futility of visiting a police station to report a mobile phone loss. No snatched mobile phones have ever been recovered. They simply melt into thin air. No snatcher has ever been caught. Riding on their UFOs, they simply drive away into oblivion. Simple arithmetic tells us that some 600,000 mobile phones have been snatched in the past 5 years. Clearly this could not be possible unless this “thuggery” industry was sponsored and patronised by the very top amongst the government, police and politicians.
How has the rest of the world gotten rid of this menace and what stops us from following suit. Can Pakistan bring its mobile phones (and vehicles) snatching rate to near zero in a matter of days. The answer is ‘yes’. This article focuses on mobile phones and aims to explain how Pakistan can get rid of a menace that brings trauma, insecurity and loss to hundreds of its ordinary citizens each day. I know of people who decided never to come back to Pakistan after undergoing their first TT encounter. Clearly it is not just the loss of a minor equipment but a feeling of anarchy and ‘Rwandisation’ of society that brings about such harsh responses.
If Pakistan is even half way serious about getting rid of this menace, it would need to establish what may be called a National Mobile Phone Crime Unit ( NMPCU). The NMPCU acts as a co-ordinator between citizens, telecom industry, police and other law enforcement agencies. It gathers, develops and disseminates intelligence on groups and individuals who snatch, steal, sell or export stolen mobile phones. NMPCU also provides expert advice on mobile phone crime, facilitates contact between the telecom industry and law enforcement, and initiates public awareness and media campaigns. NMPCU also maintains a national database of all mobile phones, including those that are reported lost or stolen within Pakistan.
Once the above infrastructure is set up and agreed between the key responders ( telecom companies, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, police and other law enforcing authorities), it can be operated with great speed and accuracy. The system is based on a unique 15 digit code used to identify an individual GSM mobile telephone to a GSM network, ( in some sense similar to the ‘chassis no’ of a vehicle). This code is also referred to as IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), and is a unique feature of every mobile phone. The unique IMEI number is obtained from the mobile phone by entering *#06# on the keypad. NMPCU should widely advertise that all mobile phone buyers should check and separately note the phone IMEI number at the time of purchase.
This is how the system is proposed to operate. NMPCU advertises a single UAN number (on TV and all national newspapers), where all persons having a mobile phone may call and register their name, phone IMEI and NIC number. NMPCU thus develops a national database of existing mobile phones, IMEIs and their current owners. Any person whose phone is snatched or stolen, calls the designated UAN number and reports his name, NIC and phone IMEI. On receipt of this report NMPCU coordinates with all concerned agencies ( Telecom companies, PTA, police and law enforcing agencies) to block any further usage of the reported IMEI. From here onwards, the phone is rendered completely ineffective. Simultaneously the law enforcing agencies check out mobile phone shops and arrest any one found in procession of a mobile phone, whose IMEI has been reported as snatched or stolen. Law enforcing agents could carry hand-held PDA devices that hold the IMEI data base of stolen / snatched mobile phones. Thus an entire shop could be checked out for procession of a stolen / snatched phone in a matter of minutes.
NMPCU website could display the serial numbers of all stolen / snatched phones for the information of all citizens. It should be made obligatory for all citizens and shop keepers, buying a new or second hand phone to check the NMPCU website, to ensure that they are not about to acquire a stolen property. Sale and purchase of stolen / snatched phones should be declared a cognisable and non-bailable offence. We have enough people who can rapidly put this technology and these thoughts into action, but not enough people in the government, who actually wish to see it happening. After all no one snatches a phone from a governor , a minister or a ‘nazim’.