Mandatory mobile device registration

Government plans regulatory directives and annual fee

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The government is planning to issue regulatory directives that will make it mandatory for all citizens to register their mobile devices and pay an annual fee of M30 for owning a device.

In this case a mobile device refers to any small hand-held device that has a display screen with touch input or a QWERTY keyboard and may provide users with telephony capabilities.

Mobile phones and tablets are mobile devices. The government believes paying an annual fee for mobile devices is necessary to identify and detect stolen, counterfeited and cloned devices so that such devices can be blocked.

Basotho who are registered for mobile money services like Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL)’s EcoCash and Vodacom Lesotho (VCL)’s M-Pesa will also have to pay one percent charge for every withdrawal.

Public Eye has seen a copy of the draft regulations which are yet to be gazetted. These regulations are called Communications (Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance) Regulations of 2021.

They will make it mandatory for Basotho who watch over-the-top (OTT) video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and others who operate in Lesotho, to pay to government five percent of their OTT usage.

The regulations are being made pursuant to section 55 of the Communications Act of 2012.

Section 55 states: “The Minister may, by notice published in the Gazette, and after consultation with the Authority, make regulations for the carrying into effect of the provisions of this Act.”

Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Sam Rapapa, told Public Eye yesterday that the regulations had not been gazetted and emphasised that it was the minister’s prerogative to decide whether they should be gazetted or not.

“Before deciding whether to promulgate the regulations or not, the most important question that I would have to ask the people who were drafting them is if they conducted public engagements to get public inputs on those regulations,” Rapapa said.

Public participation is a democratic process that ensures law makers listen to the voices of the people making laws – whether by-laws or secondary legislations.

Rapapa also indicated that a law serves many purposes and said his ministry would have to state the objectives of the Revenue Assurance Regulations of 2021 before they can be enacted.

Last month the then Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Keketso Sello, without consulting the public, promulgated regulations which mandate users to register their SIM cards, requiring them to provide a copy of their national identity document and fingerprints for biometric SIM registration.

The central database will be established and managed by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) and will be linked to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ National Identity and Civil Registry (NICR), allowing service providers to electronically authenticate the finger prints against the NICR records.

The regulations enacted by Sello are called Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Mobile Device Registration) Regulations of 2021.

Section 3 of the regulations states: “These regulations shall apply to a licensee and a user of a mobile device and SIM in Lesotho including corporate, private and commercial subscribers of mobile telecommunications services utlising SIM in the Kingdom of Lesotho.”

Section 4 states: “The objectives of these Regulations are to provide (a) a regulatory framework for the registration of subscribers of mobile telecommunications services utilising SIM and mobile devices in Lesotho, and (b) for the establishment, control, administration and a management of the Central Database.”

While the government has not publicly justified why it enacted these regulations, some countries which have similar regulations justify them as an attempt to reign in the ever-increasing incidence of crime facilitated by cellphones.

Locally, some commentators have argued that the ease with which one could acquire, use and dispose of a cellular phone’s SIM card in Lesotho, with little if any trace, provides undetected escape routes for crooks and criminals.

By assigning an identity to prepaid devices, and tracking their use, these commentators hope it will enable the police and other agencies to curtail criminal activity.

However, the regulations have been met with resistance. One of the key concerns among human rights defenders has been the risk of users’ identity particulars falling into the wrong hands.

The users’ information, according to the regulations, can be accessed by security agencies; Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) and National Security Services (NSS) with ease without the user’s consent.

Prior to these regulations, security services had to be granted a court order before they could access citizens’ private information.

Now they only require authorisation from a senior officer, equal to the rank of assistant commissioner of police, to have access to all subscribers’ information from the database.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said in a statement on Wednesday this week: “MISA is worried about these new regulations as they are a blatant violation of the right to privacy.”

It added: “The new regulations fall far short of regional and international standards and instruments on human rights such as the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention).”

The Convention, according to MISA, sets the standards for cybersecurity and personal data protection laws as well as capacity building, knowledge exchanges and experience sharing among signatories.

In addition, MISA continued, the regulations contravene Section 14 of the Constitution of Lesotho (1993).

The cited section states: “Every person shall be entitled to, and, except with his own consent, shall not be hindered in his enjoyment of freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference, whether the communication be to the general public or to any person or class of persons, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”

MISA demanded the immediate repeal of the regulations.

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