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Kenyans given deadline to register SIM cards

NAIROBI, Kenya Jun 21 – Mobile phone users now have until July 30 to register their Subscriber Identity Modules (SIM) cards or risk having their lines disconnected.

This follows a directive issued by President Mwai Kibaki last year for mobile service providers to keep a database of their subscribers following rising cases of phone-related crimes.

Kenya has close to 20 million active mobile phone users but the operators only hold details of those who have registered for mobile money transfer services and post-paid subscribers.

Speaking during the launch of the sensitisation campaign on Monday morning, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) Director General Charles Njoroge said mobile operators would also be required to regularly update their subscribers’ personal details.

“This exercise is bound to enhance our general security and I would like to urge operators to make the process easy and friendly for subscribers,” Mr Njoroge said.

Lack of proper database of mobile phone users has created a huge loophole for crimes like fraud and kidnappings with the latter recording an alarming rise in recent months.

The new directive requires all subscribers to furnish their line operators with postal and physical addresses, date of birth and alternative telephone numbers, as well as their identity card numbers.

In cases of minors, an adult will be registered as the SIM card owner and the minor as the user. Once of age, the young adult will be at liberty to change the registration details of their SIM card.

The process has however been slow off the blocks as the necessary legal framework was sought to allow for the use of mobile phone records to prosecute criminals.

Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said the ministry was fast tracking the implementation of the Data Protection Bill, currently before Cabinet, to ensure the data collected can be used by the police force.

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Since the directive issued by the President last year, operators have been registering subscribers on a voluntary basis but are now mandated to ensure all their users are registered.

Already Zain Kenya says it has registered over 40 percent of its subscribers, while Safaricom has captured personal details of all its 10 million M-PESA users.

However, the July 30 deadline has raised some concern by operators who claim the time would not be adequate to capture everyone’s personal details.

Speaking during the launch, Zain Kenya Managing Director Rene Meza said:  “We understand the process is very important and will therefore take time. We would like to urge the government and the CCK not to give us a cut-off date because we will have to actively engage with all stakeholders.”

Mr Njoroge however said the commission would review the deadline if and when necessary.

Telkom Kenya Chief Executive Mickael Ghossein echoed Mr Meza’s sentiments adding SIM card registration brings with it a number of challenges.

“The main challenge for the future will be the accuracy of the data because while we register we are not sure whether the data we are given is correct,” Mr Ghossein said.

Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Michael Joseph was quick to point out that while SIM registration would not in itself bring down the number of crimes, it would make it much easier to identify criminal elements in society.

Mr Joseph appealed to the police to use the data to quickly prosecute criminals.

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“When we do track these people down it is important they are prosecuted and sent to jail because we find that many times nothing happens to them,” Mr Joseph said.

Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere said SIM card registration will ultimately bring down the cost of investigating crimes.

“We have estimated that sometimes it takes well over Sh1 million to investigate a kidnapping case while many more cases go unreported,” Mr Iteere said.

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