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Ghana imposes fee for biometric SIM registration with self-service app

Lawmaker calls it illegal
Ghana imposes fee for biometric SIM registration with self-service app

The Ghanaian government is introducing a self-service mobile application, with a fee, to fast-track the ongoing SIM card re-registration exercise in the country, according to a recent announcement by Ghana’s Minister of Communications and Digitalization, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, reports local media. The announcement has been received with mixed feelings.

Recall that Owusu-Ekuful announced an extension of the deadline for all SIM card-enabled device users in Ghana to have their SIMs re-registered with biometrics until September 30 2022, at a 28 July press conference in Accra,.

The extension, which was the second after that of 31 March 2022, became necessary, according to the Minister, after it turned out that millions of active SIM cards either for voice or data services were still unregistered as of 31 July.

She said about 26 million SIMs were yet to be identified, citing figures from the National Communication Authority (NCA). The population of Ghana is around 33 million.

While announcing an extension of the latest deadline, the Ghanaian Communications and Digitalization Minister pronounced other accompanying measures aimed at facilitating the SIM re-registration process for millions of citizens.

One such measure is the introduction of a mobile application to be used by phone users to re-register their SIM cards in the comfort of their homes, without having to visit registration centers.

The app was due to be officially rolled out on 2 August, but it is unclear if it has actually gone into use.

Technology providers unknown

It is also not clear who is supplying the app, but Ghana has hired a Kenyan firm in the past to provide a mobile application for biometric SIM re-registration by agents.

A video report by Citi TV Ghana clearly depicts the collection of contactless fingerprint biometrics with an app, though the process is agent-directed, rather than self-registration.

There are only a handful of developers providing software-based contactless fingerprinting technology, including Idemia, Telos ID, partners Integrated Biometrics and Sciometrics, Identy, Tech5, Veridium and Winning.I.

Owusu-Ekuful said the launch of the new app had been delayed because of the cost of acquiring it, but said the government had decided to impose a surcharge of GH5 (US$ 0.58) so that the app can finance itself.

The introduction of the app has not gone well. Ghanaians have raised issues of data security related to the app, or the alleged illegality of the surcharge for app usage.

Graphic Online quotes Ras Mubarak, a former legislator for the Kumbungu constituency, as questioning the legality of the fee.

In a statement issued under the canopy of an association dubbed ‘Concerned Mobile Network Subscribers,’ Mubarak says the Minister has no power to impose a fee for the app usage without obtaining Parliament’s approval.

Mubarak opines that having had parliamentary experience herself, Minister Owusu-Ekuful should have known better that parliamentary consent was needed on such a sensitive issue. The Minister has argued that the purpose of the surcharge on the app is not to make gains.

Another concern about data security and fraudulent registration via the app, has been raised by Osei Kwame Griffiths, a former head of IT at the National Identification Authority (NIA), according to GhanaWeb.

Griffiths is quoted as saying recently on Ghanaian radio station Accra 100.5 FM that the use of the app could compromise personal data submitted if there is no strong data protection mechanism. He added that the move could as well give room for fraudulent registrations, as he questioned the effectiveness of submitting biometric information remotely.

Meanwhile, the association of mobile money agents of Ghana has criticized the government for the two-month extension, saying it is too short to have the millions of unidentified SIM cards registered, per reporting by The Ghanaian Times.

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