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Biometric SIM registration slows Kenyan mobile subscriptions, Namibia seeks a different path

Biometric SIM registration slows Kenyan mobile subscriptions, Namibia seeks a different path

After a chaotic period where of Kenya’s mobile phone users had to be biometrically enrolled, a report says the pace of mobile subscriptions has slowed down since the introduction of the mandatory registration. On the other side of Africa, the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) has started an awareness program to educate their citizenry about SIM card registration, a process that some Namibians have raised concerns about.

Mobile subscriptions slowed since biometric SIM enrollment

Business Daily Africa reports the number of mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya has slowed to a trickle since the introduction of biometric SIM card enrollment by certain telecoms.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) released a quarterly report that showed a declining number of added subscriptions since 2021. It said the number of SIM subscriptions was at 65.08 million at December 31, 2021, compared to the 64.89 million subscriptions by end of September 2021, an increase of 0.3 percent.

The CA attributed the slow update of mobile subscriptions due to the dismantling of the USSD acquisition channel for “absolute adoption of the app channel for SIM registration.” The app channel ensures that SIM card registration records biometric data, according to Business Daily Africa.

There was also a loss of mobile subscriptions by 0.2 percent from the period of July to September 2021 due to an increase in inactive SIM cards caused by subscribers defaulting on digital loans.

Earlier in 2022, the CA set an April 15 deadline for SIM card registration. Safaricom, a major Kenyan telecom, used face biometrics to enroll its customers. However, it raised questions from Kenyans, as the country’s Registration of SIM Cards Regulation 2015 does not refer to collection of biometrics for SIM card registration, according to one Kenyan tech journalist. Long lines were formed at Safaricom shops, forcing the company to set up an online portal and push back the deadline.

African nations have been authenticating SIM cards with biometrics or national identity numbers for security, but this has also led to mass SIM disconnects on the basis of them being unregistered users.

Namibia seeks to educate public on SIM registration

The CRAN has commenced a nationwide education initiative to ensure Namibians register their SIM cards, according to The Namibian.

CRAN CEO Emilia Nghikembua said the awareness program aims to inform the public about mandatory SIM card registration by mobile phone operators before the sale and activation of SIM cards. She added that operators will have 12 months to register their customers.

The Namibian says Namibia is one of two African counties that does not have SIM card registration. There is no mention of biometric enrollment involved in Namibia’s SIM card registration.

However, MTC Namibia, the country’s largest telecom, made efforts for biometric enrollment of their users’ mobile phones. The telecom launched the ‘Verifi’ offering in December 2020, using face and fingerprint biometrics with artificial intelligence to authenticate their user.

The Namibian likens it to a SIM card registration, as account holders hand over Namibian ID like a national ID card or driver’s license to register their phone number, except with the addition of biometrics.

MTC Namibia said Verifi is not similar to SIM card registration. Though The Namibian argues it is, because, “It registers a specific mobile number to a specific individual – forever.”

The Namibian raised worries about its potential for abuse, pointing to biometric surveillance and tracking in China as one example. It also cited a report from Research ICT Africa that found African states are rolling out biometric systems without respecting privacy rights.

Similar concerns were raised by Africa Digital Rights Network activists, who argued mass registration of SIM cards posed a threat to privacy and their security from governments with a history of surveillance and human rights abuses.

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