Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disconnecting People

Pakistani Einstein, Interior Minister Dr Rehman Malik has been "Disconnecting People", under the pretext of National Security, by suspending cellular services across the country half a dozen times in a few months.

Although the move didn't help stave off terror incidents, but the blanket bans have unleashed Dr Rehman Malik's brilliance in Counter-Terrorism.

The first instance of cellular service suspension was in Quetta on 23rd March 23 2012, on the request of Balochistan Home Department, and ordered by Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Since then, mobile services have been suspended in various cities on Eidul Fitr, Independence Day, Love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Day, Eidul Azha, and Ashura.

While the Ministry of Information Technology and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority deal with the suspension, the Interior Ministry is the ultimate authority that orders the move.

The Government uses the legal cover of Section 54(2) of the Pakistan Telecommunications (Re-Organisation) Act, 1996 to ban cellular services. The IT Ministry has notified service suspension in the name of "National Security" under Section 54(2) of the Act which states that "During a war or hostilities against Pakistan by any foreign power or internal aggression or for the defence or security of Pakistan, the Federal Government shall have preference and priority in telecommunication system over any licensee".

However, cellular services can only be suspended by exercising powers described in Section 54(3) of the Act, subject to imposition of emergency in the country by the President.

Section 54(3) states that "Upon proclamation of emergency by the President, the Federal Government may suspend or modify all or any order or licences made or issued under this Act or cause suspension of operation, functions or services of any licensee for such time as it may deem necessary".

The service suspensions in the have been "Irrational", and a violation of the rights of the cellular companies and consumers protected under the Articles 4, 18, 23 and 24 of the Constitution, since the President had not declared a "State of Emergency" on any of the occasions on which cellular services were suspended.

The Telecom Industry reportedly faced damages upwards of Rs one billion due to the suspension. And two months ago, the cellular companies wrote a letter to the Government via the regulator PTA, requesting compensation of Rs one billion (Rs 500 million for each suspension).

The cellular companies have asked the IT Ministry and PTA to compensate for the losses suffered on account of service suspension since subsection 54(3) of the act allows for service suspension, "Provided that the Federal Government may compensate any licensee whose facilities or services are affected by any action under this sub-section".

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