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Zambia: “SIM Registration is For Security Reasons”

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Agency (ZICTA), a body which regulates communications and related services, recently admitted that the mandatory registration of SIM cards was being done to create a security data base for users.

A ZICTA official, Ngabo Nankonde, dispelled the misconception by most people who had shunned the exercise allegedly because it was meant to monitor opposition members and government critics especially on online news websites, saying it was meant to track criminals.

Nankonde further said the registration was essential in tracking criminals who used cell phones for illegal activities, tracing stolen phones, nuisance text messages, fraud, threats and inciting violence, among other things.

She said ZICTA drew its mandate from the Information Communications Technologies (ICT) Act No. 15 of 2009 and the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communications Apparatus No. 65 of 2011 to ensure that all mobile phone service providers registered their subscribers’ SIM cards

The ZICTA explained that the personal information collected in the exercise which started in September 2012, such as national registration card, passport, driver’s license or voter’s card would be kept confidential by the respective mobile phone operators in a secure data base.

Citizen news website, Zambian Watchdog, recently reported that only less than 500,000 out of 8 million subscribers had registered and that the Secret Service was compiling data of the subscribers.

Zambian Watchdog reports:

Only a small fraction of Zambians, about 300,000, have so far submitted details for sim card with all the mobile service providers out of the total subscriber base of eight million in the country.

Sources have told the Watchdog that Zambians are sceptical to register because of the abuse for which their private numbers and personal details the PF [Patriotic Front] government would want to use them.

Last week, the Watchdog revealed that the secret service also known as Office of the President (OP) collects data everyday from the mobile companies and compile it.

A small team of less than ten OP operatives has been assembled to create the database. They only work at night starting at 18 hours when their colleagues have knocked off.

Responding to Nankonde’s statement, readers on the Lusaka Times were divided on the issue. One reader, Beleg, wrote (readers’ comments do not have individual links):

This registration has been suspicious from the beginning, I would urge people NOT to do it if they want to preserve their freedom. Do you really want to be tracked each time you make a call? Do you want to entrust your security in the hands of shady characters like Ukwa [nickname for President Michael Sata]?

There is nothing good you will achieve by registering.

But another reader, Sadakah, had this to say:

Go ahead and do it. After all its done everywhere even here in the Western World. You can never have a sim without providing all your details by way of showing your ID, ie, Passport, Driver’s Licence and/or any necessary document to support yourself. So why are these people scared when they always do the same whenever they visit other countries? Its only in Zambia where the Opposition always sees bad out of good.

But netizens elsewhere lamented about the paper registration process with some service providers running out of the forms. @VusumuziS tweets:

Dear @Airtel_Zambia, why not make the sim registration service available online? I failed to register mine today because forms had run out

One of the service providers, Airtel Zambia, clarified the matter on Twitter:

@Airtel_Zambia: @VusumuziS All customers are required to fill out the form by hand and attached copies of their photographic ID

One netizen observed:

@Mulumba: @VusumuziS therein lies the problem. Whole process should be automated, register & it goes straight to .gov DB [data base] @GNdhlovu @Airtel_Zambia

In a country were opposition parties and their leaders are constantly harassed by the police and citizen online publications on which people freely express their views threatened with closure all the time, it is likely to be an uphill battle to pursuade people about the innocence of the SIM registration exercise.

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