South Africa looking at new phone rules as other African countries block millions of numbers

Nigeria barred millions of mobile phone numbers this week as part of the Nigerian government’s policy to boost security amid an Islamist insurgency and a spate of kidnappings.

The country’s telecoms regulator had in December 2020 ordered mobile phone providers to add identification numbers (NINs) – containing personal data identifying the user – to every SIM card registered in the country or block the SIMs, Reuters reports.

The NIN has subsequently become a precondition for accessing telecoms services as well as banking, immigration and other government services. Some 125 million SIM cards have reportedly been linked, with the remaining numbers set to ‘receive only’.

Nigeria is not the first country to clamp down on SIM-card fraud and other African countries have also taken steps to block unregistered numbers to stem fraud and criminal activity, Al Jazeera reports.

  • In March, Zambia announced it had deactivated two million SIM cards to stem the volume of fraud carried out using mobile lines.
  • Kenya has set a 15 April deadline for the deactivation of unregistered SIM cards.
  • In 2021, Tanzania said it had blocked 18,000 SIM cards involved in criminal activities, in a bid to also curtail mobile scams.
  • Ghana issued a directive for every SIM card carrier to re-register their SIMs with the Ghana Card, the national residency card, or lose them.

South Africa to look at possible biometric linking 

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has proposed tying the biometric data of South Africans to their SIM cards in a move to clamp down on fraudulent activity.

The proposals are included alongside other draft regulations which were published for public comment by the regulator in a proposal document at the end of March.

The regulations define biometric data as the “measurement and statistical analysis of people’s unique physical and behavioural characteristics”.

In practice, this means that fingerprint mapping, facial recognition, retinal scans and biometric data could all be tied to a person’s SIM card – and by extension their phone number – going forward.

“On activation of a mobile number on its network, a licensee must ensure that it collects and links the biometric data of the subscriber to the number. A licensee must ensure that, at all times, it has the current biometric data of an assigned mobile number,” the regulator said.

If a subscriber requests a SIM swap, the mobile network must ensure that the biometric data of the user requesting the SIM swap corresponds with the biometric data associated with the mobile number.

If the biometric data does not correspond with the biometric data associated with the mobile number, the SIM swap must be declined.

Icasa explained it was introducing these tougher security measures due to ongoing concerns wherein mobile numbers have been hijacked either through a porting and/or SIM swap transaction.

“The hijacking of mobile numbers is a small but integral part of a wider form of fraud where sensitive data is diverted or comes in the control of criminal elements.

“The authority is of the view that the association of mobile numbers with the biometric data of a subscriber will assist to curb the hijacking of assigned subscriber mobile numbers.”


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