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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Why Nigeria and other African countries are banning cell phones. fin24

  • This week, Nigeria blocked millions of its citizens – who have not linked their line to their ID numbers – from making phone calls.
  • Other governments also want citizens to register their phones.
  • But there is distrust by residents to hand over their details to the government.

This Monday, millions of Nigerians woke up and found that they were blocked from calling. The number of lines cut is reported to be 75 million, which is more than a third of the total 198 million lines across the country.

But this step has taken a long time to come.

In December 2020, Abuja issued a directive to all SIM card carriers to link their lines to a unique national identification number, citing the need to deal with the insecurity prevailing in the country.

That deadline was postponed several times but the attack on a train by armed groups last week was a wake-up call. When reports started surfacing online that the attackers had started calling the families of the kidnapped passengers for ransom, the government swung into action, fulfilling its nearly two-year-old promise to cut off non-compliant citizens.

On social networks, many – especially Southerners – are debating the connection between SIM card linkage with national identification numbers and the actions of these groups, known locally as bandits, whose axis of focus The north-west and central are swaths of Nigeria.

In 2015, the Nigerian government fined MTN, one of the continent’s largest telecommunications players, US$5.2bn for defaults in cutting off unverified customers.

The National Communications Commission (NCC) had earlier directed the telecom giant to deactivate between 10 and 18.6 million lines. But the government swung into action after the high-profile kidnapping of a former Nigerian finance minister; Police say the kidnappers used MTN lines to contact his family members.

Read also | MTN must verify users in Nigeria by the end of the year or face blocked SIM cards

Across the continent, there is a long line of governments launching massive disconnection campaigns, among other things, over domestic security. In March, Zambia announced that it had deactivated two million SIM cards to curb the amount of fraud committed using mobile lines.

Kenyan media have also reported an April 15 deadline by authorities in the East African country to deactivate unregistered SIM cards – the third such deadline in the past 10 years. In 2013, it shut down more than two million SIM cards following an attack by the armed group al-Shabaab.

Last year, Tanzania said it had blocked 18,000 SIM cards involved in criminal activity. To also curb mobile scams, Ghana issued a directive to each SIM card carrier to re-register their SIM with the Ghana Card, National Residence Card, or lose them.

In distant Hong Kong, a proposal to impose new restrictions on phone line registration from last year was approved this March.

What are the issues?

With a 44% mobile penetration rate in Africa, SIM cards are one of the most ubiquitous technologies.

At least 50 of Africa’s 54 countries have mandatory SIM registration laws, but most have been barely enforced until now. Registration usually involves the submission of personal data and capture of citizen biometrics.

The rationale is that this registration will help in building a huge database to help track criminal activity. Officials say SIMs, sometimes accessible on the streets for up to US$1 (~R14), are often bought and discarded by suspected criminals, without anyone – or not enough – to trace and monitor them. for their personal identity details.

“Since 9/11, in many countries, if you want to get a SIM card, you have to show some [form of] identity,” Cameroonian tech entrepreneur and AppTech founder Rebecca Enonchong told Al Jazeera. “It is common that the government should require people who are using cell services [to] Register with the operators and telcos should know who is connected to their services.”

You may also like opinion | Yes, the regulator wants mobile operators like Vodacom and MTN to store your biometrics

On the surface, this seems like a quick and cheap solution for multiple governments in a continent where most countries do not have a unified operational national database.

But multiple SIM ownership prevails across Africa for a variety of reasons, including varying data prices, connectivity speeds, and signal strengths. In 2018, four African countries were among the top 10 globally with dual or multi-SIM mobile phones. There was even once a plan to set an ownership cap of 10 SIM cards per person in Kenya. Telecom operators also often devise registration procedures to sell more prepaid SIM cards.

The result, say experts, is that the data obtained from SIM registration is not as accurate or clean as it should be.

“ID System [in Africa] Not really backed by technology, there are no connections, so there’s no verification process,” Enochong said. “If the telecom companies themselves don’t implement it, it’s really very hard for the government to access the data. ,

How do we get here?

At its core is the collective reluctance to register SIM cards, as there appears to be a lack of distrust by residents to hand over their details to the government.

Unsurprisingly, given the historical intolerance for dissent in some of these countries, there are concerns about data privacy and the government’s incomparable ability to use data collected for a purpose.

There is also a legal void surrounding government handling of data.

A 2021 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) claims that only half of African countries have adopted laws to protect personal data.

Experts say that the exercise of repeated registration has also weakened the will of the people.

Over the years, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its economic powerhouse, has established a number of mandatory identity registration schemes, including Bank Verification Number (BVN) and National Identification Number (NIN), as well as voter cards, international passports. And the more comprehensive IDs as such are also included. Other.

Nevertheless, the government is insisting that the way forward is to link each SIM card with a NIN, a policy that many Nigerians say will be as cumbersome and bureaucratic as its predecessors – And possibly nothing will be achieved in the end.

“It’s a trend of policy laziness,” Gabenga Sesson, head of the Lagos-based digital rights advocacy non-profit Paradigm Initiative, told Al Jazeera. “The problem isn’t with the lack of a central database; it’s about impunity. If I know that if I commit a crime and I know I’ll be punished for it, I’m about two.” I’ll think again.”

In Kenya, citizens are also complaining about the redundancy of multiple registrations. The new registration guarantees submission of the phone number, passport or visa and copy of the resume page, exit stamp and scanned ID – items they claim to have submitted during the last exercise in 2018.

The bigger fear, however, is government surveillance under the guise of national security, leading to widespread reluctance to voluntarily submit personal data that could be used to monitor their everyday activities.

“The issue of data privacy has gone beyond Africa,” said Ken Ashigbe, CEO of the Ghana Telecommunications Chamber. “There will always be concerns about Big Brother sitting somewhere and using your data to spy on you, [and] When you bring it to the examples of Africa, where our governments seem to have absolute power, there are certainly risks.”

The risks in the digital age extend to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) as well, where the world of possibilities on SIM and the Internet is helping to empower many in the absence of social welfare schemes.

Already, SMEs account for 84% of employment and 96% of business in Nigeria. Sesson warned that cutting millions of people out of uninterrupted communication could adversely affect the economy.

“What we’re going to lose is about a third or about 35% of the connected lines that we have [and] big economic consequences [but] There will be no use in terms of security.”

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World Nation News Desk
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