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Stakeholders debate legality, efficacy of South Africa’s biometric SIM registry proposal

Stakeholders debate legality, efficacy of South Africa’s biometric SIM registry proposal
 

Mobile network operators and digital media companies in South Africa have taken a series of complaints about proposed biometric identity verification requirements to the regulator in charge, reports local outlet Fin24.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) heard arguments that the proposed biometric SIM registrations are unconstitutional, and could expose individuals and businesses to the risk of abuse of the data collected.

The Constitutional Court upheld a previous ruling in 2020 that the Regulation of Interception of Communication and Provision of Communication Related Information Act (RICA), which mandates the collection of biometrics for mobile account verification, violates South Africa’s Constitution and privacy laws.

Investigative journalist organization amaBhungane warned of surveillance creep and suggested that the registration exercise is not an effective way to deal with SIM swaps. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) noted the recent blockage of a similar plan in Mexico by that country’s Supreme Court. The group said a human rights impact assessment should be performed, and that Icasa should engage with South Africa’s data protection authority.

MTN countered that it is already using biometrics for identity verification as part of its Mobile Money service, and is considering expanding its use of biometrics to further curb fraud. However, according to MTN, Icassa does not have the authority to impose the regulations on telecom licensees.

Icasa argues that the biometric registry will prevent people’s phone numbers from being hijacked.

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