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Lesotho, Namibia join trend of SIM card registration with biometrics

Lesotho, Namibia join trend of SIM card registration with biometrics
 

The southern African nations of Lesotho and Namibia have launched campaigns for citizens to re-register their SIM cards with their biometrics and digital IDs, making them the latest countries joining the trend that is fast taking roots across Africa.

Their neighbor South Africa is also planning biometric SIM registration. ID4Africa has promoted the approach as a way for governments to incentivize identity enrolments.

In Namibia, the SIM card registration campaign was launched last month by the Communication Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN), and the country’s Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC) commenced the registration process on a voluntary basis just under a week ago, reports RegTech Africa.

According to the MTC, the in-person registration will run until January 1, 2023, requires phone users to bring along an ID card, passport, new driver’s license or a valid voter’s card along with proof of address and the mobile.

Commenting on the start of the voluntary SIM registration exercise, the MTC Chief Human Capital, Corporate and Marketing Officer, Tim Ekandjo, is quoted as saying: “A registered card comes with security benefits; it helps prevent identity theft; forms the basis for systems that combat phone-based fraud; and it aids in combating cybercrime.

“Moreover, this is particularly essential given the high rate of these forms of crime committed. It also generally comes with convenience value of accessing electronic services, especially now that more companies are upgrading their service offerings to digital platforms.”

The exercise is supposed to be done in-person according to the MTC, apparently requiring the capture of biometrics. The company says it hopes to see its over two million subscribers registered.

The Government of Namibia announced plans to make SIM registration compulsory last year, saying the move is part of efforts to curb crime and fight identity fraud. Before now, it had embarked on an awareness-raising camping.

This view by the government notwithstanding, media veteran in the country has raised concerns over the SIM registration exercise, arguing it will have a serious effect on investigative journalists who may want to blow the whistle on corrupt activities and remain anonymous, writes The Namibian.

“This has a serious effect on investigative journalists. Who would want to blow the whistle if they know they can be traced?” asks Media Ombudsman John Nakuta, quoted by the outlet during a ceremony to mark the sixth edition of the African Anti-Corruption Day on 11 July.

Lesotho SIM registration campaign underway

Meanwhile, in Lesotho, the biometric SIM registration exercise was also launched late last month by the Kingdom’s Minister of Communication, Science and Technology, Sam Rapapa, according to The Reporter.

Rapapa, while launching the exercise, called on citizens to avoid last-minute rushes, and assured that the two mobile telecommunication companies operating in the country have expressed their readiness to accompany the process to a successful end.

“Children, old people and people living with disability who will not be able to go and register physically can do so through guardians. The guardians must bring along the National Identification card, birth certificate of the child or ID of the person they will be registering on their behalf, and a letter showing that they are the legal guardians of such,” Rapapa was quoted by The Reporter as saying.

In countries such as Myanmar where there are similar operations, millions of SIM cards have been deactivated due to non-compliance with registration requirements.

In 2020, more than 34 million SIM cards were deactivated in the country, according to officials of the Ministry of Transport and Communication, as reported by Myanmar Now.

The deactivation affected SIM cards whose owners failed to register them using their National Registration Card numbers, or for cases where multiple SIMs were registered under one identity.

Some activists have been raising privacy and surveillance concerns about SIM card registration with biometrics.

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