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New data privacy concerns for Namibia’s biometric SIM registration

Process already marred by challenges
New data privacy concerns for Namibia’s biometric SIM registration

The head of the Payment Association of Namibia’s e-Money Forum, Paul Rowney, has urged the country’s authorities to put an end to the biometric SIM registration exercise until a personal data protection legislation has been enacted.

Rowney, also a former Technology adviser with the United Nations, is quoted by Namibian as saying biometric capture for SIM registration would have made more sense if the right legislative framework was in place.

The biometric SIM registration process in Namibia has had a rocky ride with a litany of challenges already, the country’s telecoms regulatory body said in October.

Less than 50 percent of telecoms service users in the Southern African country have registered their SIM cards despite a government deadline set to run out by December 31.

The biggest concern that has rocked the SIM registration process has been the continuous collection of biometric data by Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC), the country’s main telco.

A few months ago, the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) – the telecoms industry regulatory body – directed that the collection of biometrics for SIM registration was thenceforth optional, but MTC has continued to collect such data unperturbed.

This practice has left Rowney questioning whether the telco is not collecting and using the data for a new application that it envisions to roll out in 2024.

After the December 31 deadline, the government says it will suspend all unregistered SIMs, and telcos are already expressing apprehensions about a possible revenue dip.

Stanley Shanapinda, CEO of Telecoms Namibia, says the suspension of a single SIM card from January 1 next year would be so much revenue lost for them, reason why they are calling on their customers to hurry up and meet the deadline.

He notes that at the moment, the company rakes in between 250 million Namibian dollar (US$16 million) to 280 million Namibian dollar (US$18 million) yearly.

A CRAN official explained during a recent media briefing that when the deadline elapses, all unregistered SIMs will be suspended for an initial catch-up period of three months. Within this time, users will be able to enjoy a few services on the said SIMs, and a definitive removal from the network is expected after that.

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