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Tanzania Threatens to Block Unregistered SIM Cards

Tanzania Threatens to Block Unregistered SIM Cards
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Tanzania Threatens to Block Unregistered SIM Cards

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA — Tanzania's government plans to block all mobile phone SIM cards that are not registered biometrically by Jan. 20.

Officials say the move is aimed at cracking down on cybercrime, which jumped by 82% in Tanzania in 2017.

Among the victims is Gift Swai, who was defrauded of $1,300 when she tried to purchase electronics online via her mobile phone. She sent the money, but never received the goods. If a biometric SIM card system had been in place, she said, the person who stole from her would have been more likely to be caught.

The biometric registration will link SIM cards to identification cards or foreign passports and fingerprints.

Nowadays, phones are like banks, said Fredrick Ntobi, of Tanzania’s Communication Regulatory Authority. "Sometimes, you might mistakenly send money to various places. Because the details of the one who received the money will be known, it will be easier for your money to be returned."

The strict cutoff deadline was imposed to force millions of Tanzanian mobile phone users who were slow or had missed earlier deadlines to register. Tanzania’s communication authorities say as of Jan. 5, just over half the country’s 44 million SIM cards had been registered.

But there is concern among Tanzanians that they may not be able to register in time, and that their phones will be effectively cut off.

Upcoming elections

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers worry that cutting off unregistered mobile phones would be another hurdle to campaigning ahead of October elections.

Chadema Party leader Saed Kubenea said if a member of Parliament in the area wants to communicate with the public, ask for a vote or share information and 15,000 phones are turned off, then 15,000 people will be out of the system. So, Kubenea said, lawmakers will be unable to communicate with them.

To avoid such problems, Tanzanian authorities are urging everyone with a SIM card to register by the Jan. 20 deadline.