SIM Registration

Debunking Common Myths Surrounding SIM Registration

By Mansoor Muhammad on November, 22 2021

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Mansoor Muhammad

Mansoor is a member of the Azimut marketing team and specializes in digital content. When he's not writing about self service, Mansoor spends his time brewing coffee or cycling.

In this blog:

  • How SIM registration mandates came to be
  • How SIM registration works
  • Why certain people have opposing opinions about SIM registration
  • Why these opinions hold no ground

There have always been two camps on SIM card registrations, those who are in favor and those who still believe its a malicious attempt by governments to monitor their citizens. We'll take a look at how these claims hold no ground and telecom customers have nothing to worry about.

In recent years, many developing nations have seen mandates imposing the registration of even prepaid SIM cards against each unique user. What this means is that telecom service providers are required to register each customer's identity against a SIM card that is sold to them. This way telecom operators can trace exchanges of text messages and phone calls back to the sender and/or receiver.

What Does SIM Registration Entail?

This process may require customers to present one or a combination of the following to verify their identity:

  • Government Issued Photo ID
  • Passport
  • Biometric Fingerprint Scans
  • Biometric Facial Scans
  • Photographs

biometric verification for sim registration

Most commonly, we've found that registration requires a national ID card and fingerprint scans. The regions most popular for mandating SIM card registration are Africa, The Middle East and South Asia.

Why SIM Registration?

These SIM registration mandates came about for a few reasons, the main one being the prevention of criminal and fraudulent activities. Some of these developing nations have, in the past, experienced criminal and terrorist activity with no way to track these bad actors who would normally use burner phones with prepaid SIM cards.

Frequent Network Outages

Previously, when governments had suspicions of criminal activity or large groups organizing against them, they were forced to shut down all telecom networks to mitigate the effects of the criminal and terrorist activity. This would cut off their means of communication and render them unable to execute their plans due to a lack of coordination.

telecom network outage

These kinds of network shutdowns have been common in our history, carried out in Ethiopia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe. It isn't just developing nations that are prone to these network closures. Similar shutdowns have occurred in the United Kingdom and United States as well in the past decade.

Economic and Social Loss

These shutdowns are extremely inconvenient for the general public and cause major losses to businesses that rely on telecom services, not to mention the loss of business for telecom service providers themselves. These network shutdowns were too detrimental to economic activity and a disruption in the everyday lives of citizens. There had to be a better way to regulate and monitor for terrorist or criminal activity.

The Need for a Better System

This is where the mandates for SIM registration came in and required each SIM, even prepaid, to be registered to the user based on ID documents and biometrics. This way when malicious activity is detected associated to a certain phone number, the number can be traced back to the user. The crime can be stopped before it even happens. Even spam callers can be identified and tracked.

Poor Reception by the People

A vast majority of people took SIM registration as a negative change initially. They thought this was all a ploy for the government to monitor their every move and watch them like Big Brother. Some thought this whole registration thing was a huge hassle. They didn't want to get up and go to a telecom service center to register themselves and give their fingerprints.

A Burden on Operators

It was also a huge strain on telecoms as they had to employ and train additional workforce to handle the initial surge in SIM registration customers. They also had to set up additional infrastructure to support the added workflows of SIM registration such as technology to record biometric data like fingerprints and facial scans and additional databases to store customer data.

crowd of people on phones

Often times, the telecom registrations systems are connected at the backend to national identity databases to verify customer identity based on their national ID cards and this saves telecoms the effort of setting up a system from scratch. A lot of biometric data can also be verified through this backend connection.

Most Adapted and Carried On

Yes, it was initially a strain on customers and telecoms alike but it served a greater purpose which favored everyone. Telecoms eventually got along with program and adapted and used it to their strength. Today, many telecoms are using self service SIM dispensing kiosks to onboard and register new customers which saves them time and otherwise incurred operational costs.

There Are Some Non-Believers

However, there still some individuals with tin foil hats that believe all this is a means for the powers that be to surveil them and their every communique. These people fail to understand that if they are a citizen of a nation with a passport, a bank account and an address, the government can already surveil them and their data. However, they can't because there are certain data protection laws that only allow surveillance of individuals under very specific circumstances.

What Do You Have to Hide?

You only need to worry about 'Big Brother' if you've got something to hide i.e. criminal or fraudulent data or activity. Otherwise, you and your data are safe from the hypothetical eyes of the law. And even if they did want to come after you, your online presence would be the first thing they peer into. Social media accounts have a lot more rich data about you and your life.

malicious character on the internet

You might want to take a look into that before worrying about your telecom service provider. And for the lazy folks out there who are procrastinating registering a SIM card because it requires you visit a telecom service center, try looking for a SIM dispensing kiosk near you. These kiosks operate 24/7 and 9 times out of 10, won't have any queue or wait time to get a new SIM card.

To Conclude...

Don't be foolish. Dismiss the conspiracy theories around SIM registration unless you are comfortable going back to the days of frequent network blackouts and burner phones being used to commit crimes and fraud. As historians would say, learn from the past in order to avoid making the same mistakes.

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