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Sierra Leone: Crackdown on Unregistered SIM CardsPosted by: admin on Wed, 2010-09-08 11:41
Sierra Leone has launched a law enforcement operation to arrest vendors of unregistered SIM cards. The government maintains that unregistered SIM cards pose a threat to the security of the nation and to individual citizens.
By Bai-Bai Sesay
(Freetown, Sierra Leone) – The Sierra Leonean government is taking an aggressive stance on the sale of mobile phones with unregistered SIM cards. The National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), in joint operation with the Cyber Crimes Prevention Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department, has started cracking down on hawkers of unregistered SIM cards. So far, 12 people have been charged in court in the capital Freetown for allegedly selling unregistered SIM cards.
The rampant practice of selling unregistered SIM cards in the streets of Freetown and other parts of the country poses potentially serious security risks. Owners of unregistered SIM cards could use them for a range of abusive or illegal activities, including sending threatening messages to peaceful citizens, promoting acts of terrorism, stealing handsets, extorting money from citizens and kidnapping citizens. Registering SIM cards makes it possible for law enforcement officials to trace criminals involved in such acts.
The registration of SIM cards is not unique to Sierra Leone; it is a standard practice in many developing countries. Despite this, critics of SIM card registration cite privacy issues in arguing against the practice. They are concerned that government agencies will be able to use personal information to conduct surveillance on citizens’ activities that may not necessarily have any bearing on national security.
The government argues that the security risks of unregistered SIM cards outweigh personal privacy concerns. NATCOM gave all mobile phone users until the end of June 2010 to register their SIM cards or be disconnected.
“NATCOM will not relent in ensuring that its clients are protected against security risk and other forms of abuses of the technology of mobile phones,” said NATCOM Protocol Officer Larry Fofanah.
Speaking to AudienceScapes, the Quality Service and Economic Assessment Manager Alhaji Kakay maintained that much has been done to raise awareness about the law. Kakay said the government will continue to educate the public about the law’s rationale and importance of complying with it.
Fofanah and Kakay admonished mobile operators to be wary of selling SIM cards to any “Jack and Jill.” They added that there has to be consideration for a balance between profit and the moral, ethical and legal implications of such a decision.
NATCOM Chairman Seray Timbo underscored the importance of registration, explaining that “the initiative to crack down on the sale of unregistered SIM cards is a nationwide exercise.” While his organization is not depriving anyone of the benefits of modern technology, he said, it should not be used to the detriment of either national security or of peaceful people living in the country. Timbo said the operation will be ongoing and anyone caught selling unregistered SIM cards will be prosecuted.
Bai-Bai Sesay is an independent journalist from Sierra Leone, who has written for the Independent Observer Press, the Legacy Magazine, Panos and Africa News Online.