SIM Card Registration: Was the Intention achieved?

If you own a phone in Uganda, it is a requirement that your SIM Card is registered. On registration, you are supposed to give your details including a passport photo, names, date of birth, gender, address and details of valid identification documents. This, therefore means that when I get your phone number and using lawful means, I will get pretty much information about you. But, isn’t this a risk on privacy? How did we get here?

With the rising spate of high profile crimes, it was noticed that suspected criminals were using unregistered or wrongly registered SIM Cards. This made it difficult particularly for investigators to follow up on these cases. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) as a regulatory body then gave directives to all telecom companies to have all SIM cards registered. Guidelines and deadlines were given and all went on well though with some legal issues here and there.

Following UCC’s directives, MTN also issued a statement “All requests for SIM card replacement shall be made by the owner of the SIM card physically, upon presentation of a letter from the Uganda Police confirming loss or theft of the SIM card,” adding, “SIM card registration and activation shall only be made after validation of the customer registration details including presentation of a National ID.

UCC Officials at a news conference.

There was some relief as this would reduce the chances of con men taking advantage of unsuspecting citizens. But a few years down the road, the effect of SIM card registration isn’t felt as shown in the examples that follow.

In my case, I get suspicious calls almost on a weekly basis from people purporting to be Mobile Money agents. I am only lucky that in all cases, I am sharper than the guy who has called me.

On the 11th of February 2019 at 11:16 am I received a call from  0773 810 615. But because at least I know what kind of number can call me from MTN, I simply told him I was in a meeting. The crook still called me 2 minutes later and I told him frankly that I knew he was a crook. Like in most cases, he hurled obscene words at me and hang up.

Just the next day, (12th February 2019), I got another call from 0786 955 425 at 5:00 pm. He asked me whether I had float. I answered in the negative and he hang up. Personally, I have never run nor worked in  Mobile Money business. But the calls asking me about the same are too common.

On the 19th of February 2019, I again received a call from 0772 202 432 at 5:20pm again asking me whether I had float. I again answered in the negative.

On 2nd March 2019, at 11:45 am, I again got a call from 0783 196 221 asking me again whether I had float. I simply told him to give me a few minutes to check. He dint call again.

This has also happened to many of my colleagues for example a friend of mine who owns a Mobile Money business received a call on the 23rd of February 2019 at 9:24 am. The lady being experienced asked the caller who he was. The caller wasn’t consistent and eventually ended the call.

Previously, I would call customer care to report these numbers but I came to realize that the telecoms didn’t follow up on these cases. These days, even when you want to call customer care, you will have to pass a certain kind of interview from a machine in order to talk to a human being.

So, did SIM Card registration achieve its objectives? Has UCC tried to follow up on its directives? Even with SIM Card registration, are we really safe from criminals and crooks? Over to you.

Stephen Dumba
E-zone School of Computing
0772 111 223 / 0752 111 223