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Pakistan launches digital wallet for financial inclusion on back of biometric SIM registry

Pakistan launches digital wallet for financial inclusion on back of biometric SIM registry

Pakistan’s government has unveiled a plan to bring 50 million people into the financial system by leveraging the country’s biometric registry of SIM cards, Dawn reports.

The Asaan Mobile Account (AMA), a digital wallet service led by the State Bank of Pakistan, and operated in cooperation with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the country’s Virtual Remittance Gateway (VRG) and 13 banks offering branchless services.

Pakistanis can open an AMA by texting ‘*2262#’ from any smartphone or feature phone, through any mobile network, with no internet connection required.

State Bank of Pakistan Governor Dr. Reza Baqir pointed out that Pakistan has surpassed “187 million biometrically verified mobile phone subscribers with teledensity of around 85 per cent,” and that 3G and 4G subscriptions are closer to 106 million, leaving 81 million who require access to accounts without the internet. Baqir believes the platform could benefit many women, who are more often excluded from the financial system.

NADRA Chair and CEO Tariq Malik called the project “a game changer” in a LinkedIn post, noting that in Urdu Asaam means “easy.”

“AMA has potential to empower those (approx. 50 Million) who have long been excluded by the formal banking system,” writes Malik. “The poor needs innovative opportunities not just charity. Charity alone is not enough to lift the economic fortunes of the poor!”

Thailand allegedly showing downside

While financial inclusion is one possible outcome from a biometric telecom registry, another, according to a report from Thailand, is discrimination and mass surveillance.

A Reuters report details services cuts to people failing to register their biometrics, and allegations of disproportionate, ethnically targeted surveillance and human rights violations.

In addition to a biometric SIM registry which is not present in other parts of Thailand, some residents of border provinces Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have had their DNA collected without consent. The three provinces are home to most of Thailand’s Muslim minority, and a long-running deadly insurgency.

Ronnasil Poosara, who is commander of the southern border provinces’ police operation center told Reuters that attacks involving mobile phones have decreased since the SIM registration deadline last April, and the biometrics collected have helped with apprehending suspects.

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