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Comparitech report shows 17 countries collecting biometric data for SIM card registration

Comparitech report shows 17 countries collecting biometric data for SIM card registration

With more than 5.1 billion global mobile phone users accounting for some 70 percent of the world’s population, a number of governments have looked into implementing SIM-card registration laws to prove identity and collect user data, writes Comparitech. Mandatory SIM-card registration with real name and personal details is necessary in most countries, but governments lack transparency when it comes to data use.

Comparitech analyzed just how intrusive governments can be, including the use of biometric technology, how data is stored and who it is shared with, its use by law enforcement, how long it is kept for and if there is any privacy legislation to protect it.

Unsurprisingly, North Korea ranks as one of the countries with the worst SIM-card registration policies, government surveillance and zero data protection. If registration procedures are not respected, the person is sent to prison. Other countries on the list are Lebanon, which is looking into biometric checks but it doesn’t have any protection laws, Pakistan, which is using fingerprints in the registration process, as is Singapore.

Bahrain, Bangladesh, and China use fingerprints or facial scans in the registration process, share data with law enforcement without requesting a warrant, and store information for a long time. Facial scans are mandatory in China and Singapore when registering a new phone number. Both fingerprints and a facial image are necessary when registering a new phone number in Nigeria. With 50 percent market share, Singapore-based Singtel has integrated facial recognition in its ID-verification process.

Biometric registration laws are currently active in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, China, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Jordan, Lebanon, and Liberia are currently in the planning stage, while in Mozambique individuals who don’t have proper ID can give fingerprint information.

In the countries where biometrics are not yet requested, photo ID is mandatory, which in many regions includes personally identifying information such as a permanent address, date of birth, nationality, and gender.

Based on Comparitech research, it appears governments are developing a national database with citizens’ critical and private information, increasing the risk of surveillance and user profiling. Governments can use SIM cards to track location and movements and all online activity, but they can also restrict content and block internet connection for certain individuals. If there are no laws to protect user data, all this information could end up with third parties, but it could also be exposed to theft and abuse.

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