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Cameroon telcos get ultimatum to ID all SIM holders in regions plagued by security crisis

Namibia telco criticized over biometric registration
Cameroon telcos get ultimatum to ID all SIM holders in regions plagued by security crisis

Mobile telecommunication operators in Cameroon have been given 60 days to thoroughly identify the holders of all SIM cards currently in use in the Far North, North West and South Regions of the country.

The directive was given early this week by Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji during a meeting with representatives of companies offering telecommunications services.

These three regions of Cameroon have been floundering in security crises for years. In the Far North, Boko Haram insurgency has been wreaking havoc in many communities. In the North West and South West, armed separatists are fighting to create a break-away country. Both crises have given rise to the phenomenon of kidnappings for ransom.

Speaking during the meeting, Atanga Nji expressed worries that the spate of ransom payments was on the rise in those regions, aided largely by the use of improperly identified SIM cards. He said it has been estimated that over FCFA 370 million (about US$605,000) was paid in ramson in the three crisis-hit regions in the past year using their mobile money channels.

According to the Territorial Administration Minister, these activities have been successful mainly because SIM cards used by criminals are either not registered at all, or are registered with incorrect information.

“Our mission is to protect people and their property and to ensure that security returns to the North West, South West and Far North regions. But when you have your platforms which are not controlled, it’s a problem. How can you give 30 SIM cards to a group of terrorists, knowing very well that they’ll use it to intimidate? They send messages to people asking for huge sums of money,” said Atanga Nji.

“So, you have to help us to help you. The security of the state cannot be put at stake. If your customers cannot be clearly identified, then they have no business with you, not to talk of the terrorists who are in the bushes. Within this period of 60 days, I am telling you clearly to put things in order; otherwise, you will face serious sanctions. We cannot jeopardize the security of the state for any purpose whatsoever.”

The registration of SIM cards is a compulsory activity in Cameroon, and is regulated by a Prime Ministerial decree of 2015. The decree of September 3, 2015, prohibits the sale of SIM cards on the streets and in other unauthorized sales points. The legislation requires a national ID card for the registration of a SIM, and forbids an individual from having more than three SIM cards registered in their name on one mobile telephone network.

The decree on SIM card registration was introduced after the industry regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Board, uncovered cases of between 100 to 200 SIM cards registered with one national ID credential.

The regulator has previously fined Cameroon’s leading telcos for failing to identify subscribers, but the country has not yet followed some of its neighbors in turning to biometrics for SIM registration.

Cameroon recently launched a campaign to issue 80k birth certificates to children preparing to take final exams.

Data privacy concerns raised again with SIM registration in Namibia 

In a SIM-identification related story, preoccupations remain about the continuous collection of biometric data for SIM card registration in Malawi.

The concerns this time around have been raised by the country chapter of Internet Society, a digital rights advocacy group, Windhoek Observer reports.

The group has chided Mobile Telecommunication Limited for the biometric collection, arguing it contravenes the laws in force.

Anna Amoomo, the society’s president, is quoted as criticizing the fact that those who refuse to get their biometrics captured are refused SIM registration. To him, biometrics do not need to be part of the registration process, and is calling on authorities to respect the law.

The SIM registration process in Namibia has been rocked by several challenges and criticisms of biometric collection in the past.

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