Better Mousetraps

(Published in The Express Tribune, September 6, 2010)

When the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) started issuing computerised identity cards, it served the government well in terms of intelligence, census data collection and regulation. Both, blue and white collar workers are required to present their Nadra cards when entering into any sort of agreement.

Security and trust

The computerised cards, just like bank notes, contain security features that make forgery much more difficult. Holographic polyester film laminate coating, micro lines and patterns printed at 3,600 dots per inch and ultraviolet images of Quaid-e-Azam are just some of these features.

Even if a card is forged, it will not validate against the centralised database that contains records of all cardholders. Finally, fingerprints are also registered in the national database which inexorably links identity cards to rightful owners.

The difficulty in forging, alongside advanced security features, has led to trustworthiness. Consequently, these cards are now widely used in all sorts of business transactions, effectively overcoming pockets of corruption. Other examples of trustworthy systems include demand drafts trusted by banks and automated teller machine (ATM) cards trusted by cash dispensing machines.

Broken windows

Under the ‘Broken Window’ theory, economists contend that the bar for committing a crime should be high enough to prevent it from occurring in the first place. If a lot of shops have broken windows, crimes of opportunity will run rampant.

A fine example is that of an unlocked warehouse. This lends not only to loss of property but also creates an environment of doubt by casting suspicion on all those around if a theft does indeed occur.

Such an environment is not only bad for employee morale but also shifts focus away from business at hand and increasingly towards policing employees.

Honey pots

On the Internet ‘honey pots’ are easy to hack systems deployed with the sole purpose of luring in hackers to exploit them. Authorities closely monitor these systems to reap useful information about the techniques used by the hackers.

This is the opposite of the Broken Window theory in that the system is exploitable by design with the sole purpose of monitoring and capturing hackers. Law enforcement agencies use similar tactics by leaving easy to hijack cars in localities with high crime rates, in an effort to narrow in on carjackers.

Businesses seldom use this tactic other than for conducting internal security audits.

Honey pots serve yet another very useful purpose which is that they force perpetrators to think twice about committing a crime for fears that it might be a trap.


Traps to catch perpetrators are far more effective when used in conjunction with a trustworthy environment through better security, broken windows and honey pots.

That said, in countries like the UK, closed circuit cameras across the city serve to identify and fine violators without any human intervention. These kinds of ‘mousetraps’ are incorruptible but more importantly, they are easy to regulate and also make prosecution easy with video evidence at hand.

Pakistan has lately received a lot of bad press with regards to corruption while businesses are plagued by similar issues and run-ins with local authorities. It would serve the people well to start thinking about these issues and move toward building better mousetraps.