Prepaid Mobile Phone SIM Cards in Ghana to be registered

From October 2007, all prepaid mobile phone SIM cards in Ghana are to be registered with the host cellular network says Ghana’s communications industry regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA)*. Although details about the implementation of this new regulation are still sketchy, it will be mandatory for buyers and sellers of mobile phone SIM cards to register them. The personal identification details of each mobile phone users are to be kept in a database for reference, if the user abuses the mobile telephony service for criminal activities.

With the new regulation, before a pre-paid mobile phone chip (GSM or CDMA) can be activated, customers will have to provide details of a name, home address, and other telephone numbers as well as show identification as evidence to the seller, the Public Relations Manager of NCA, Afua Cobbah told The Statesman.

Existing customers may have to re-register with the phone operator, she said, adding “we want to have a complete database to be able to monitor the industry and track anonymous calls and text messages if complaints of anonymous abuse are made.”

The reason for this new policy is as a result of the very defamatory anonymous text messages that have been circulating Ghana’s political circles in recent times, seriously damaging the personalities of some NPP Presidential aspirants (NPP is Ghana’s ruling political party). See:  http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=127850

Not even the Inspector-General of Ghana Police was spared the unslaught. He also got  life-threatening text messages. I am quoting Ghanaian Times newspaper (I saw the banner headline myself on the front cover of the paper, the day it was published):

The Inspector General of Police Mr. Patrick Kwarteng Acheampong, has been receiving what appear to be death threats from anonymous sources.

According to the Ghanaian Times newspaper, the threats have come in the form of text messages and they centre on issues such as the MV Benjamin cocaine scandal and the recent transfers within the Ghana Police Service.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, two of such threats were received and the IGP is not treating them lightly.

One of the messages shown to the Times, read: “You were able to come out of the cocaine case but this one you will never go free. We will show you that power is not everything. we are sorry 4 your life”.

The senders simply buy a SIM card on the street, send their nasty messages, and then remove the SIM from the phone. The SIM is unregistered, the sender remains anonymous unless of course an intense police investigation can use other means to lead to the sender.

The Statesman newspaper’s editorial for 20th Sept. 2007 simply explains why the new regulation should be enforced:

[…]Yesterday’s edition of the Ghanaian Observer reported on the latest round of SMS against NPP presidential aspirants, this time against Dan Botwe. Countless other Ghanaian citizens have also been subject to these affronts to privacy and decency.

Now it appears the regulatory challenge is between protecting the privacy of victims of anonymous text messages and that of individual mobile phone users. The challenge is between offering criminals anonymity to conduct their nefarious activities and protecting victim interest.

The fast growth of the mobile phone market has prompted easy accessibility to phone chips, without much trade regulation. Chips are inexpensive, disposable, and – most importantly—unregistered so that there is no accountability for the user’s actions. […]

One thing I know for sure is that registering every mobile phone SIM card in Ghana will not necessarily curb the menace of anonymous defamatory text messages. Not when the Internet exists. There are several services online that allow bulk SMS to be sent, for a fee. All the sender has to do is supply a fake personal contact info, pay, upload the list of mobile phone numbers and start sending en mass. As a matter of fact, I was amused to learn that the text message senders causing the hue-and-cry in Ghana were using mobile phones. I knew this could be done on the Internet, at lower cost, faster, conveniently and truly anonymously (because the sender field of sent messages can sometimes be forged, or replaced with any text).

Another point on which I readily agree with The Stateman‘s editiorial is the issue of National Identification scheme in Ghana. This mobile phone registration exercise should necessarily be synchronised with the yet-t0-be-built national ID database.

[…]But, we will repeat our Monday proviso that this system would work better if its introduction coincides with the implementation of the national identification card plan.

It may be cumbersome to initiate regulation in such an unchecked market, but it is encouraging that the NCA is at least considering some appropriate actions for the common good.

Our only reservation is that we can’t see how effectively this can be done before the national ID card system comes in. Without it, the registration exercise would be cumbersome, irritating, too prone to false information, and would even lack a national reference database of personal identification details.

*I did not link to NCA’s website because it was offline at time of blogging. The URL is www.nca.org.gh

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Avatar of Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.

12 Comments

  1. Prepaid cell phones are one of the recent additions to the wireless service industry. Buying prepaid wireless phones provides you prepaid wireless service with no credit check. It is also very easy to terminate – the service is automatically terminated after the expiry date.

    Cheers,

  2. I read your article and it is so true for us living in the African regions, can you furnish me with your phone number so I can contact you in person, I think this will be good for my own region in West Africa also. I will really appreciate your help.

  3. Please i have bought a new chip but will like to activate my reservation number. How do i configure that? I need the process. Thanks

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