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Mozambique’s three mobile phone companies (M-Cel, Vodacom and Movitel) on Tuesday switched off a million clients for failing to register their SIM cards.
The companies announced the mass disconnect in a joint press release, which also urged those of their customers who had not yet registered to do so as quickly as possible.
The order to disconnect affects clients whose SIM cards were active prior to 28 November 2015. Anyone who acquired a SIM card after that date could only activate it after filling in the registration form.
The government first demanded SIM card registration in the wake of the Maputo riots against price increases of 1-2 September 2010. It was argued that the rioters had been mobilized through mobile phone text messages, and so, to avoid the abuse of mobile phones for criminal purposes, all SIM cards should be registered.
The phone companies pointed out that registering all the cards was an enormous task and successfully lobbied the government to extend the deadline. Then, as the riots faded from memory, registration seemed less urgent and dropped off the agenda.
But when Carlos Mesquita became Minister of Transport and Communications in January 2015, he revised the demand for registration. In February 2015, he gave the three companies a month to complete the registration.
That deadline also proved unrealistic, but this time the matter would not go away. The government issued a decree on the matter, and threatened companies which failed to register their clients with fines of up to six million meticais (about 126,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates).
The SIM card registration form asks for the user’s name, identity card number, date, place of issue and validity, phone number, serial number of the pre-paid sim card, address, and signature (or fingerprints in the case of illiterate users).
All new users of pre-paid SIM cards will be registered at the moment of purchase. This means an end to the convenient practice of itinerant vendors selling SIM cards. Instead, new users will have to buy the cards at an M-cel or Vodacom shop – which do not exist across large swathes of the countryside.
A further restriction is that nobody under the age of 14 will be able to buy a SIM card. No individual user can have more than three numbers from the same operator.
Back in November, the three companies estimated that there were about 100,000 unregistered SIM cards. Since they have just announced the disconnection of a million numbers, that November claim was just a piece of fiction, an attempt to minimize the problem.
The companies make no estimate of the amount of money they stand to lose if they cannot sell airtime to a million clients.
The abuse of mobile phones is not restricted to organizing riots. The criminal gangs involved in the wave of kidnappings that have rocked Mozambican cities since late 2011 use mobile phones to contact their victims’ relatives and demand ransoms. The authorities believe that obligatory SIM card registration will make it easier to track the owners of phones used for criminal purposes.Source: AIM