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Analyst says SIM card registration in Uganda is ill-advised

Analyst says SIM card registration in Uganda is ill-advised

ICT industry analysts have cautioned the government of Uganda against proceeding with its SIM card registration project as there is little evidence of its effectiveness or usefulness.

This follows a meeting between Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and telecommunication company chief executives on further steps to be taken in order to ensure full implementation of SIM Card registration in Uganda since the process was first initiated in 2013.

UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi issued a directive for the deactivation of all non-registered and partially registered SIM cards by midnight on 29 March 2017, as well as a limit of ten SIM cards per customer on any telecommunications network.

Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa (RIA) says the UCC's move demanding the registration of SIM cards in Uganda is misguided.

"Despite little evidence that mandatory SIM registration contributes to safeguarding our digital security and physical safety it has become a universal regulatory standard in Africa to facilitate the monitoring and interception of communications. With little to no public debate about the wider social or political effects and in the face of evidence of the negative effects on connectivity, particularly for the poor, 49 of the 55 countries in Africa by 2014 had mandated SIM card registration or where in the process of doing so. This is significantly more adoption than in other regions. According to the Global Mobile Association (GSMA) in 2013 African countries made up 37 of the 80 countries globally that had mandated pre-paid SIM registration."

Dr Gillwald says there is a lack of concern about the chilling effect that mandatory SIM registration has had on ICT diffusion, which is a key driver of economic growth and development on the continent, as well as for the stealth with which a pervasive continental and global surveillance system has been deployed through the deployment of private resources.

"Research tells us that stalling the positive network effects associated with a critical mass of connections, either through disconnecting lines or SIMS, limiting bandwidth availability or cost, or inhibiting access to the free and open use of the network resources through filters, censorship or fear of surveillance and detection, all inhibit the potential of ICTs to drive efficiencies and conditions for innovation in the knowledge economy through enhanced communication flows."

Dr Gillwald believes that if the UCC were to pushes ahead with its SIM Card registration requirement it will lead to the disconnection of SIM cards that belong to the poor and migrants as they are the ones often unable to provide the necessary identity documents or evidence of residency.

Scepticism

Dobek Pater, Managing Director at Africa Analysis shares Dr Gillwald's scepticism on the usefulness of SIM card registration.

"The main reason operators implement SIM registration is (because) of a regulatory requirement. Normally, the reason for the regulator requirement is to limit crime (including potential terrorist attacks) by using unregistered SIM cards to communicate by criminals. Unregistered SIM cards cannot be traced to an individual person without the details of who purchased such a SIM card.

I don't know how effective this is in terms of curbing crime. I am not aware of any studies that correlate SIM registration and a decrease in crime, and whether the two can be linked."

Pater does, however, anticipate that there will be some benefits for operators who take part in the SIM Card registration project.

"The positive aspect may be that operators have a better view of the location of their subscribers or geographic distribution nationally. They also already have the relevant details of a subscriber in case the sub wants to port the number to another network. SIM cards which are not registered but also do not generate revenue are 'cleaned out', providing an operator with recycled numbers which can be reused, thus saving the operator some money by not having to pay for new number licences on the HLR. – I.e., it provides an operator with an opportunity to clean out its system of SIMs that were sold but are no longer active."

UCC has included the Uganda's Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Identity Registration Authority (NIRA), Uganda Police Force, Office of Prime Minister (Commissioner for Refugees) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in its meetings with the telecommunications operators in an effort to get a method for deactivation of SIM Cards that considers the cost and other challenges for all interested parties.

A statement from the regulator's Executive Director says the UCC enjoys the support of Inspector General of Police (Gen. Kale Kayihura) for all SIM cards to be registered.

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