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SIM blocking fiat ‘most inappropriate’ – Minority urges use of passports, voter IDs, driver’s licence

The Minority caucus in parliament has said “inasmuch as we support any attempts to sanitise the digital ecosystem, we strongly oppose any abuse of policy to unnecessarily inconvenience the citizens of Ghana” in reference to the ongoing SIM card registration.

Speaking at the launch of the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the Minister of Communications and Digitalisation, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, said: “It is imperative that we reduce the incidence of mobile device-related cyber-crimes. All of us have to register our SIMs as well as our devices. We’ve provided a 6-month window for this exercise and hope that we all endeavour to register.”

“Let me just give a gentle reminder that all unregistered SIMs will be deactivated at the end of the registrations exercise, and we mean it. We will enforce the law to the letter,” she added.

“We find it most inappropriate that the policy directive issues a fiat of deactivating SIM cards that are not linked to the Ghana card within the next six months”, the caucus said in a statement against the recent comments of the Minister of Communication and Digitalisation in relation to the registration of SIM cards.

“This, we believe, is a retrospective application of legislation and a tunnel-visioned approach to sanitising the industry”, the caucus added.

It also urged the government to expand the documents needed for the registration beyond the Ghana card.

It recommended the “use of passports, driver’s licence and voter ID cards to allow for the inclusion of more Ghanaians in the registration process”.

Read the full statement below:

We, as the Minority in Parliament, have followed the policy directive issued by the Honourable Minister for Communications and Digitalisation on the registration of all SIM cards in the country, which started on the 1st of October 2021 and would last for six months.

This registration process is to be done in two phases including the linking of a Ghana card to a SIM card and the physical visit to an agent of a service provider by a SIM cardholder for an integration process to be completed.  

Inasmuch as we support any attempts to sanitise the digital ecosystem, we strongly oppose any abuse of policy to unnecessarily inconvenience the citizens of Ghana.

We find it most inappropriate that the policy directive issues a fiat of deactivating SIM cards that are not linked to the Ghana card within the next six months.

This, we believe, is a retrospective application of legislation and a tunnel-visioned approach to sanitising the industry.

The current legislation that backs SIM registration in Ghana is the LI 2006 passed by Parliament in 2011. This legislation saw the registration that happened in 2012.

This legislative instrument does not mandate the linkage of the Ghana card to activate SIM cards.

The National Identification Authority Act, 2006 (Act 707) and LI 2111 which introduces the use of the Ghana Card as the principal document for registration of SIM cards and Bank Accounts amongst others cannot be applied retrospectively to SIM cards that were registered legally and legitimately under the existing Ll 2006. Section 7 of LI 2111 makes the use of the Ghana card mandatory but does NOT make it the sole card for the purposes of registration.

It is imperative that we state that any attempt to stretch the mandate of El 63 to justify this latest directive on SIM cards is grossly misplaced. Section 100 of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) which forms the basis for El 63 imposes a liability on the Service Providers to furnish the President with details of registered devices.  

This duty does not extend to the customers of the Service Providers. It is in our considered opinion that this attempt to compel and threaten Ghanaians with deactivating their SIM cards come March 2022 is an unfortunate affront to the rights of Ghanaians.

To break this down, this new directive is akin to the Bank of Ghana issuing a fiat that bank accounts would be closed if account holders do not link their accounts to the Ghana card. After all, the NIA Act also mandates that bank accounts need to be backed by Ghana cards.

Another inconceivable scenario would be the Passports Office issuing a statement that all passports must be revalidated because a few holders may have falsified the birth certificates or other primary documents used to acquire their passports.

This is how ludicrous it sounds that to deal with some instances of fraudulently acquired SIM cards by unscrupulous persons would demand that all SIM cardholders must go back to register their SIM cards.

This is simply not a pragmatic approach.

The claim that linking a SIM card to the Ghana Card would prevent fraud is flawed. The Ghana Card database is full of largely unverified GhanaPost GPS addresses which were hastily generated at NIA registration centres and not linked to the physical addresses of the registrants. It is important to note that residential mobility is high among the majority of Ghanaians and as such addresses in the NIA database cannot be the basis for an anticipated fight against SIM-based digital crime.

Our recommendations on the SIM registration exercise are:  

1. The immediate withdrawal of the threat of deactivation of valid SIM cards by March 2022.

2. The scrapping of the physical visit to an agent of a service provider for authentication of the registration document.

3. An integrated referencing of databases of the Passport Office, DVLA, NHIA and SSNIT with the NIA database whose cards were used largely as primary registration documents for previous SIM registrations.

4. The use of passports, driver’s licence and voter ID cards to allow for the inclusion of more Ghanaians in the registration process.

We urge the Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation to take these steps in good faith. We believe this would actually accelerate our digital ecosystem in this age of COVID-19.

We have also spoken to our lawyers to advise us on all legal options open to us on this matter.

Source: classfmonline.com

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