The registration of Subscriber Identification Module (otherwise know as SIM) cards has finally commenced. This exercise, which is poorly understood by the populace, has continued to be the object of debate among telecommunication industry professionals on how the registration should work, who should be responsible for it and how the exercise is different from the Registration of Telecommunications Subscriptions (RTS) or Subscriber Registration.
While the argument rages, MTN Nigeria has continued a nation wide public registration of its SIM cards. The conduct of the exercise has raised fresh issues, which threaten the success of the exercise as a whole and undermine both the security of subscribers as well as that of the country.
SIM registration is a regulatory requirement by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). With crimes committed through the help of phone lines on the increase this exercise has become exigent as it is intended to assist law enforcement agencies to investigate, track down and prosecute those who exploit the anonymity currently provided by prepared GSM subscription.
As laudable as this scheme seems, there is everything wrong with the way MTN Nigeria is currently handling the exercise.
MTN, a South African company, is the foremost GSM operator in Nigeria.
According to latest figures, of their 129.2 million subscribers worldwide, 35.1million are in Nigeria. If figures, which put the telecommunication subscriber, base in Nigeria at over 75 million are anything to go by, it would be safe to conclude that MTN owns close to 50% of the GSM subscriber base in the country.
This is currently how MTN’s SIM registration exercise works; some roadside kiosks offering telephone services including those that sell accessories and recharge cards now have MTN branded notices announcing that they register SIM cards. When you walk in, you are asked to fill out a form which requires you to disclose such information as your full name, date of birth, occupation, address and phone numbers. Your thumbprints are taken along with a digital passport.
As harmless as this seems, it raises grave questions about privacy and security. Is it safe to leave such a sensitive exercise with all its security implications entrusted to just anyone? In the wrong hands the information filled out in the form could be used for many things ranging from the exploitative to the down right sinister. We certainly can’t be registering SIMs to combat crime and at the same time empowering criminals by allowing them easy access to sensitive personal information.
Perhaps even more important is the overall national security question,
which the exercise raises. When MTN is finished with this exercise it would effectively have in its possession the most accurate statistical information about Nigerians complete with such details as faces, names, addresses, and occupations. No other government agency, not even the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has such detailed data. Should we be comfortable placing such data in the hands of a foreign private company?
Have we taken into cognizance the many other uses such sensitive data can be put to in the hands of other nationals to undermine our sovereignty as a people and our territorial integrity as a nation? Is there a law regulating access to and the use of the information generated with clear cut penalties for its abuse or mismanagement?
It is even more curious that while the debate is still ongoing about whether the National Communications Commission (NCC) should be responsible for the exercise, MTN is already carrying on with it. Just last week the National Assembly sat and deliberated on the N 6 billion budget submitted by the NCC as funding required to carry out the exercise. One is tempted to ask why the enthusiasm on the part of MTN? Why is it that none of the other major operators has hit the streets seeking for our bio data? Even as this is going on, new SIMs are still being sold without any registration or activation hindrance.
The publicity for the exercise leaves much to be desired. Very few people are aware that this is going on. Currently it is being handled like some clandestine matter with nobody sure of what exactly it is about, not the serious exercise with grave national security implications that it is. Just this week newspapers reported a case of an agent who was charging subscribers to register them.
It would be unfortunate and indeed a national shame if in trying to solve one problem we end up creating an even bigger one.
It is important that all necessary security and quality assurance checks be put in place to avoid the abuse of peoples privacy and misuse of the information currently being generated. This is a threat to National Security and must be addressed with both the urgency and the seriousness it deserves.
Image via The Will
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is one of the coordinators of the Enough is Enough Nigeria Coalition. He blogs at nzesylva.wordpress.com
This article was published originally here