Big Brother will be watching us after process of SIM registration

Friday June 25 2010


There seems to be widespread public support of the government directive announced on Monday to make SIM card registration mandatory so as to cut down on crime.

But while there is no doubt that criminals use mobile phones, there is no study that links non-registration of pre-paid mobile phones to greater criminality.

Even with registration, it is likely that it will be business as usual for criminals. With the massive corruption in this country, criminals may be able to render the system ineffective. They may, for example, be able to register using different and false identities.

While the registration is a naked violation of privacy, it may not be able to compensate with greater public security. Criminals will still be able to use stolen phones or their own phones registered under false identities to commit crimes.

The private data collected through registration can also be leaked and may end up helping criminals. Rather than providing security, the registration may most likely lead to illegal surveillance and control.

SUBSCRIBERS ARE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE not just their names, ID number and postal address, but also their date of birth, gender, and physical address.

This personal information can be used to monitor, control and spy on people by both the government and phone operators. Even criminals may have access to the databases.

The databases will have commercial, marketing and political value. Somebody, somewhere, could misappropriate, misuse and exploit the databases for their own benefit or advantage.

Even more importantly, the government and the mobile phone service providers will have the means to monitor and control our lives. Potentially, the registered mobile phone subscribers will be under complete surveillance by the authorities.

The new databases will increase the power of surveillance over citizens. Big Brother will be watching us, and the Ministry of Truth will be telling us what to do. Next time, perhaps, Big Brother will want us to register our computers and e-mails, reportedly all in an effort to curb cyber crimes.

The databases will not be a substitute for efficient police work.

Experience in other countries shows that registration of mobile phones does not lead to decreased crime. In Botswana, for example, where they went through a similar exercise last year, mobile phone-related crime has not gone down.

Registration of mobile phone users is more trouble than it is worth. Initially, at least, it will slow down the high market growth of mobile phones and frustrate the goal of universal telephone access, which we require for the attainment of a middle-level economy, as anticipated in Vision 2030.

Registration will also be particularly frustrating for Kenyans who are relatively poor or live in remote areas for they will find it more difficult to produce the necessary documents required to be registered. It will also come as a cost to the mobile phone providers who will be expected to pass on the cost to the phone users.

Registration is also a hassle. The ease with which people can get a mobile phone number has been the major driving force in the rise of the numbers of telephone subscribers. By requiring registration, the government is tampering with this convenience. Instead, the government should be encouraging the operators to provide a cheaper service.

MOST OF THE SUPPORTERS OF THE REGIStration do not seem to have a clue as to the cons of the exercise. They seem to have bought the line by the Police Commissioner that registering mobile phones will, like a magic bullet, cut down on crime.

Other people are not speaking up because they think it is pointless to protest when faced by big government. Still others have agreed to register their phones simply because of fear of being left without communication.

The 20 million or so mobile phone subscribers have up to July 30 to register all their SIM cards with their service providers, or “risk having their lines deactivated”. Why the rushed process? Millions of people may not be able to register on time.

May be we should all refuse to register. The government cannot shut down a whole communication system.