By Juliet Umeh
Nine years after Nigeria flagged off Subscriber Identification Module, SIM registration, there’s a damning report that the country ranks poor among others who carried out similar exercise across the world.
The exercise which gulped about N6.1 billion, was meant to check insecurity and crimes, mostly those that are phone related; but soon after the flag off, every Tom, Dick and Harry, became SIM registrars and the standards set by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, were compromised.
Despite fines, including the unprecedented N1.04 trillion imposed on MTN Nigeria for failure to disconnect some improperly registered users on its network, the SIM registration exercise thrived on a shaky ground. Harmonising the duplicated entries, was also an issue and took a long time to happen.
Apparently, many Nigerians would not be surprised when the embarrassing report by a technology and research company called Comparitech, said Nigeria’s SIM registration exercise is below par and ranks 5th among the nations with poorest of standards.
The study which examined privacy in mobile phone usage in 150 countries and how national governments imposed SIM-card registration laws to collect data on their citizens, said Nigeria scored 13 out of a possible 20 (20 being th worst score) in many indices, making the country one of those with poorest of standards in the world.
Some of the indices Nigeria could not get decent scores include: biometrics requirement, duration of data storage, where data is stored, accessibility of the data to law enforcement and data privacy legislation, protection and methods of collecting the information.
It, therefore, described Nigeria’s SIM card registration laws as invasive and ranked it among the worst in the world.
The report said Nigeria was among countries where invasive biometric data is mandated for SIM card registration particularly for the reason that the length of time this data is held by the collating body is unknown or unclear.
It means that Nigeria ranks among countries like China, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Tajikistan and the United Arab Emirates as countries where privacy under SIM card registration is not protected.
However, Nigeria appears to have taken steps to delist itself from the damning list and redeem its image. This is as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami recently gave a directive that by December 1, already registered SIMs must have been validated to international standard and National Identification Number, NIN, would have been made compulsory requirement for SIM registration.
The directive, updated the SIM registration Policy to include that: National Identity Number, NIN, becomes a prerequisite for Nigerians registering new SIM cards, while foreigners will present their passports and visas to register a SIM.
Meanwhile, already registered SIM cards are to be updated with NIN before December 1, 2020, the directive, said.
A tech writer at Comparitech, Paul Bischoff, said: “In China, anyone registering a new phone number now needs to submit a facial scan. This is also happening in Singapore
According to the report, while most countries require mandatory SIM-card registration, this requirement does not exist in about 45 countries and jurisdictions. Countries without mandatory SIM-card registration laws include United Kingdom, United States, Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, and Sweden.
Throwing light on how SIM-card registration threatens people’s privacy, Bischoff said, “Creating a database of citizens and their mobile numbers restricts private communications, increases the potential of them being tracked and monitored, enables governments to build in-depth profiles of their citizens, and risks private data falling into the wrong hands.”
For him, with more than 5.1 billion global mobile phone users accounting for some 70 percent of the world’s population, a number of governments have looked into implementing SIM-card registration laws to prove identity and collect user data.
He said that even though mandatory SIM-card registration with real name and personal details are necessary in most countries, however, governments lack transparency when it comes to data use.
Meanwhile, Nigeria is not the only African country with such poor scorecard. Tanzania is at the top of the ranking of countries with the worst SIM-card registration laws, scoring 19 points out of the maximum of 21 points. Next on the ranking is Saudi Arabia (17 points), followed by North Korea and Uganda (15 points each). Lebanon, Pakistan, Singapore, and Sri Lanka have a score of 14 points; while Nigeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Tajikistan, and United Arab Emirates scored 13 points.