Dar es Salaam. Yesterday marked a new milestone for mobile telephony operators and users in Tanzania as the biometric registration of subscriber identity module (Sim) cards by telcos kicked off with the launch of a pilot project in Dar es Salaam.
The new system – which is being spearheaded by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), initially as a pilot exercise – requires customers to provide fingerprints as proof of identity to complete the registration processes.
Basically, a Sim card is a smart card inside a mobile phone handset carrying an identification number unique to the owner. SIM cards store personal data, and prevent ’phone operations if and when removed.
Currently, all it takes to register a Sim card is an identity card (ID) – regardless of who the holder/owner is – and verbal assurances that the person whose photo appears on the ID is one and the same person seeking registration.
The increasing thirst among mobile phone companies to boost subscriptions has watered down thorough background checks that were initially put in place to provide proof of identity. This has paved the way for fraudsters and all sorts of criminals to swoop in and play havoc with the mobile telephony sub-sector. What’s worse, the advent of mobile money has not made things easy.
Speaking during the launch of the biometric registration exercise, TCRA director general James Kilaba said the registration system that is being phased out had seen dishonest agents and other criminal elements team up to illegally exploit existing loopholes.
“Criminals-types are using forged identities to register Sim cards, which are then used to perpetrate crimes such as fraud and verbal abuse and threats against unsuspecting members of the public – among other incidents. This new system will make it easier to nab such elements,” the TCRA head said.
To plug the existing loopholes across the spectrum, Mr Kilaba said, biometric registration will also involve telecommunication companies (telcos) that are working closely with the National Identification Authority (Nida).
“We’re also trying to nail down the correct subscription statistics from the telecoms sector to spur development of the economy,” he noted, when expounding on the merits of the system.
Speaking to the press on the matter, the Zantel brand and communications manager, Ms Rukia Mtingwa, applauded the new system, saying it would thwart misuse of mobile phones, and also reduce complaints by customers.
“After the pilot phase, we will train our agents on how to register subscribers through the new system,” she said.
For his part, the TigoTanzania Sim card registration expert, Mr Kenneth Ndulute, threw his company’s support behind the new system, saying “it will definitely discourage subscribers from using abusive language over their phones – and conmen from sending text messages soliciting for cash from mobile money subscribers.”
The pilot exercise will last 30 days, and will be implemented in the administrative regions of Dodoma, Dar es Salaam, Coast, Singida, Tanga and Iringa on the Mainland, as well as in Zanzibar. Thereafter, it will be unveiled in the remaining regions across the country.
Currently, there are 22 million Sim cards that are registered for mobile money services – and over 40 million of the cards in the hands of users in general.