Modern media and Zambia, it seems, have not been on very good terms lately. Between lawsuits and expulsions for students and the like going on, a new measure has now been taken by the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Agency (ZICTA) that’s raising a lot of eyebrows and plenty of ire to go with it. The new measure, a mandatory registration of mobile device SIM cards, is of particular concern, as even the Zambian government is admitting that the registration is being undertaken for security purposes.
ZICTA, through its spokesperson Ngabo Nankonde, described the measure as being meant to track criminals, as opposed to what an increasing number of Zambians had thought the measure was designed to originally do –monitor the government's critics using mobile devices to access political websites.
Nankonde described the value in a SIM registry's ability to track stolen devices, as well as to find those engaging in behaviors few would find redeeming like fraud and making threats on individuals from said devices.
Nankonde cited the Information Communications Technologies Act No. 15 of 2009, as well as the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communication Apparatus No. 65 of 2011, for a mandate, saying that these two pieces worked to ensure that all mobile providers were performing SIM registrations to begin with. But given the overall low numbers of compliance – reports suggested that only one in approximately every 16 subscribers, or less than 500,000 out of eight million total, actually registered – the Zambian government looked to do more.
Further reports suggest that one reason for the low compliance is the perception among Zambians that such a registry would have substantial potential for abuse on the part of the government. Given a recent move from May 2012 in which Zambian President Michael Sata launched a series of lawsuits against his critics – included in the list were a newspaper, a radio station and at least two individuals claiming defamation – as well as more recently threatening the expulsion of "nosy" diplomats, it's not hard to see where Zambians might be concerned about possibly handing Sata more potential lawsuit targets.
Strangely, it's not all about privacy protection; some users aren't performing the registration as, for some reason, the SIM registration forms are not available online. Some users claim that they would have performed the registry, but because there were no online forms and the paper-based forms had actually run out at the location where that particular customer got their phone, they couldn’t do so.
Worse, the provider in question, Airtel (News - Alert) Zambia, illustrated in a response to that report that only paper-based forms are permitted, and must include a photocopy of picture ID. This would be enough to worry a lot of people by itself.
This is undoubtedly going to cause the Zambian government its fair share of problems for some time to come, as an inefficient registration system collides with a recalcitrant people who fear government reprisal and wouldn't want to hand over information to make said reprisal easier. But with a government wanting better registry and potentially unable to get it, it's going to be a tough job to account for the huge array of unregistered devices out there. And doing so without citizen compliance will likely make a bad situation even worse for the Zambian government.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo
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