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Quixotic Quest: Registering Prepaid Mobile Numbers

By Wayan Vota on July 27, 2009

As everyone in Kenya knows, there’s been explosive growth in voice and data usage, mainly through mobile phones. And while the vast majority of mobile phone usage is beneficial to Kenya’s economy, the very ubiquity, ease, and anonymity of prepaid mobile phones that make them so attractive for positive uses, has also made them great tools for nefarious ones.

Can’t wait to know you

In reaction to this trend of using prepaid accounts to facilitate crime – from petty to serious acts – the government of Kenya is now requiring mobile phone providers to identify all prepaid account holders, following similar acts by the governments of South Africa and Tanzania.

As The Nation reports, Kenyan mobile phone operators are not happy with this new government mandate:

Zain CEO Rene Meza said the move would not reduce crime. “Prepaid subscribers registration is a good initiative to identify mobile users. However, it does not prevent or reduce crimes as the criminals normally manage to get hold of stolen mobile phones or fake or stolen identity cards to get their own mobile connections,” he said. This was based on his experience in Pakistan and Paraguay where the law required that prepaid subscribers be registered.

And who can blame them – establishing a prepaid phone line registry will do little to discourage or solve crime. Mobile phones are an enabler for sure, but just as much as any other communications device. And creating a registry for Kenya’s 17.6 million mobile phone users will vastly increase paperwork for both customers and mobile line operators, with little impact on mobile phone usage in crimes or the ability to solve crimes after they happen. Worse, the mobile subscriber database, with all those personal records, would be a target in itself for criminals.

So while mobile phone operators fight this battle, Internet cafe owners should not think themselves immune. They could very well be the next registration target for the government. To combat cybercrime in Italy, Internet cafe owners are required to record the identification of anyone who uses their computers and worried African governments may not be far behind.

I’m surprised that there isn’t already a call for Internet user registration in Nigeria, home of the famous “Yahoo Boys”, to curtail 419 fraud.

Filed Under: Management
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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4 Comments to “Quixotic Quest: Registering Prepaid Mobile Numbers”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    For those that doubted my prediction, here’s the word right from the Kenyan regulator, CCK:

    Computerworld: The issue of content regulation has been thorny, how will CCK regulate online content?

    Charles Njoroge, CCK: Content regulation has been challenging. For example in Kenya pornography is illegal, but people make DVDs; enforcement has been tough because mostly it happens in private spaces.

    We learnt lessons from the post-election violence in 2008 where people used mobile phones and the Internet to incite others to violence. We are dealing with mobile networks by enforcing registration of SIM cards, and eventually, will work with ISPs to enforce [laws about] hosting of Web sites considered illegal [and] spreading violence with content considered illegal.

    CCK will work together with the police in all cases where the police discover that a certain ISP is hosting illegal content.”


  2. Wayan Vota says:

    Abuja — The Federal Government will compel GSM operators to embark on mandatory registration of SIM cards of mobile phone subscribers for security reasons, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan said on Monday. Jonathan made the revelation when members of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) visited him in Abuja.

    Jonathan said that the proposed mobile phone SIM card registration would check the trend of text messages and phone calls by criminals.
    Also speaking, the leader of the delegation and the National President of NACCIMA, Dr Simon Okolo, said that the step would checkmate the high rate of crime.


  3. SimonG says:

    I don’t think that government of Kenya is doing the right thing in this situation. I mean registering and identifying all prepaid account holders is a little bit strange. I have been in many other countries in the world and I didn’t see anything like that anywhere. There are some crimes there too. In some countries the level of crimes is even bigger than in Kenya. But this is rule of democracy – freedom. And we must have this freedom with those prepaid mobile numbers. I think that it is another way to catch those crime makers. However thanks for the interesting article. I will be waiting for other great ones from you in the future too.


    Simon Gillson from mobile development

  4. Wayan Vota says:

    The push for mobile-phone growth in regional markets in Africa is being thwarted by the introduction of SIM card registration laws aimed at reducing handset theft and tracking down criminals, industry insiders say. The law that was introduced in South Africa only four months ago, and requires customers to produce identification documents and personal details when joining a network.

    South Africa’s regional mobile operators’ Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) and Vodacom have both recorded a slowdown in customer growth, and blame it on the SIM card registration law. “The new law will kill off the company’s previous ability to add 1 million subscribers in a month,” Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys said.

    African SIM card registration laws stir controversy