In many countries around the world, telecommunications consumers can buy prepaid SIM from retail marketers without having to present any form of identification and with little or no paperwork. Personally, I have always thought this was a great freedom… pay as you go, and with complete privacy. I used to cringe at the amount my U.S. based carrier would charge me for the “luxury” of using their service, whether I used the phone or not! Pre-paid is much more convenient (and financially beneficial) compared to that of ‘pay monthly’ contracts where SIM card users and contract users are required to register their personal details, including address, photo ID, (and financial ability to pay), before they can obtain mobile services.
This convenience drives the popularity of prepaid SIM cards, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all SIM connections globally. It is also responsible for the continued growth of mobile communications services, particularly in developing countries. For example, in Africa, prepaid SIM cards account for 95 per cent of all SIM cards in use with an annual growth rate of 12 percent.¹
Mandatory registration for prepaid users emerged after the introduction
of registration requirements in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland in 2003. Since then, an increasing number of governments have introduced
mandatory registration requirements requiring communications/mobile operators to register SIM purchasers with proof of identity. As of July 2013, at least 80 countries worldwide (with over 4 billion users) have mandated (or were actively considering mandating) the registration of prepaid SIM users.
A number of other governments, including the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Romania and New Zealand all considered mandating prepaid SIM registration but concluded against it. While these governments’ policy assessments have not been published, reports suggest the absence of a significant benefits for criminal investigations as a key reason for rejection. In Mexico, mandatory SIM registration was introduced in 2009 and repealed three years later after assessments showed that it had not helped with the prevention of crimes, investigations and/or prosecution of associated crimes.
In the U.S., the mobile industry continues to undergo a revolution. Carriers are becoming less aggressive, off-contract phones are getting better and cheaper, and things don’t look anything like they did in 2012. Although pre-paid is still considered somewhat expensive compared to contract services, it may not be long before legislation comes knocking at Freedom’s door there too!
Meanwhile in the Philippines…
… there has never been any requirement to register SIM prepaid users but that is about to change.
The Philippines House of Representatives just approved (5/15/2018) a measure which seeks to require all users to register their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards. House Bill 7233 is the proposed “SIM Card Registration Act,” which aims to will restrict communications liberties in the hopes of tracking track down individuals who use mobile phones to perform criminal acts.
Under the measure, Public Telecommunication Entities (PTE), or those who are engaged in providing telecommunications services to the public, or direct sellers, will be mandated to require the end-user of a SIM card to present valid identification with photo to validate the person’s identity. The mandate will also require the SIM card end-user to fill out and sign a controlled-number registration form. All SIM card ed-user registrants will be required to provide full name, date of birth, gender and address which appears in a valid government-issued identification document with photo.
This measure also will include ALL foreign nationals who own a SIM card, requiring them to also register their full name, passport number and address in the registration form.
While the bill moves forward, there seems to be some concerns about the implementation of the bill which includes vulnerability of end-users due to information leaks exposing user to unscrupulous or criminal acts. Other concerns are impositions on privacy and freedom of speech, particularly
in the absence of any national laws on data protection and freedom of expression. Also there is the potential loss of access to communications
services when mobile users’ SIM cards become deactivated (sometimes without warning) due to failure to meet registration deadlines. Such failure may be caused by situations beyond users’ control such as living far from a
registration center, lack any formal identity documents, or were not made aware of the need to register and the relevant deadline.
Another concern was the exception that the proof of ineffectiveness has been established by several other countries who have applied similar SIM registration requirements that have failed in reducing criminal or terrorist acts.
The Bill requires that PTEs will maintain SIM card registries, submitting the same to the Department of Information and Communications Technology every six months. PTE’s will be responsible for maintaining subscriber record data.
¹ – Sources: GSMA Intelligence (Q3 2013 actual figures).
– Privacy Rights and Prepaid Communication Services: Accessed at http://blogs.sfu.ca/departments/cprost/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/0601.pdf According to this 2006 study, nine of 24 oe CD countries surveyed
required prepaid SIm users to register. These countries were Australia, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Slovak republic, South Africa and Switzerland.