MASERU – The beginning of June will see regulatory directives making it mandatory for all citizens to register their mobile phones’ sim cards (SIM) following the passing in parliament of the Communications (Subscriber Identity Module Registration) Regulations of 2021.
The 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 utilising a SIM in the country. They are meant 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.
Announcing the commencement of the registration on Monday, Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) Chief Regulatory Officer, Thato Ponya, highlighted that as a watchdog the media initially rejected this piece of legislation naming it draconian; and that “the LCA had to retreat and go back to the public for more consultations to facilitate amendment of particular sections of the proposed law.”
Ponya said with the publication of the law, network operators in Lesotho are expected to begin registration six months later and are supposed to finish the process within a period of 12 months. Asked how many SIMs network operators are anticipating to register in the 12 months, both Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and Vodacom Lesotho (VCL), Ponya said they hope to register 100 percent of their current users.
Ponya said the use of letters from area chiefs as a form of identification and proof of residence will not be accepted for SIM registration because the Ministry of Home Affairs has since notified both local network operators and the LCA that 90 percent of Basotho have now been registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs under the National Identity and Civil Registry (NICR). As a result, Section 15 of this new Act explains explicitly the procedure for registration of personal information using a valid Identity Document (ID). It further continues to explain the registration of a company.
According to this law in Section 11 (1) (a) (b) and (c), proxy registration of a SIM shall be allowed for minors, people with disability and people aged 70 and above. Section 12 states that a subscriber may register any number of SIMs with any licensee. In addition, Section 13 states that a subscriber shall be liable for activities carried out using SIM registered with that subscriber’s personal information unless the subscriber reported loss of SIM under regulation 21.
Section 15 (f) describes the visitors’ registration process in case of those who have not subscribed for roaming from their country of origin. Section 15 continues to describe the procedure of registration of sim cards for different people. Both ETL and VCL said, given 12 months only to register the sim cards of all the existing users, their teams are ready to do community outreaches to bring services closer and to assist Basotho to understand more about the importance of registering their sim cards.
The network operators also reassured their users that no costs will be incurred for registration as the process is free and no airtime will be deducted from them for registering their sim cards. Since Lesotho delayed to implement this law, it gave them more time to learn and study how they will overcome the challenges and fraud acts such as those where people will be selling registered sim cards with anonymous names. Registration of sim cards will begin on June 24 this year and be completed in June 24, 2023.
Each user will have to visit their network operators with their ID which will be used to register their sim cards. 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.”
Countries which have similar regulations justify them as an attempt to rein in on the ever-increasing incidence of crime facilitated by cellphones. Locally, some commentators have argued that the ease with which one can acquire, use and dispose of a cellular phone’s SIM card in Lesotho, with little if any trace, provides undetected escape routes for 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. For instance, the users’ information, according to the regulations before amendment, could be accessed by security agencies; Lesotho Defence Force, Lesotho Mounted Police Service, Lesotho Correctional Services and the National Security Services with ease without the user’s consent or a court order.