Source: Article 19
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa is concerned that the de-activation of SIM cards, following the end of the biometric registration process in Tanzania directly impacts the ability of hundreds of thousands people to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and access to information and impacts universal and equal access drives.
On 20 January 2020, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (or TCRA) announced that 656,091 mobile users had their SIM cards de-activated by telecommunications operators, after the lapse of the deadline for the biometric (finger print) SIM card registration process.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa is concerned that the de-activation of unregistered SIM cards will severely restrict millions of people from sharing or accessing information and ideas online, given the TCRA estimation that a total of 20.4 million SIM cards will be de-activated in phases. The continued de-activation of SIM cards will impact mobile internet penetration rates in Tanzania, which stood at 18.5% in 2018.
“Mandatory biometric SIM card registration processes have a disproportionate impact on citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, free expression, and their ability to communicate and access information using telecommunication and Internet services. The de-activation process should be discontinued and telecommunications operators should reinstate those already de-activated,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
During the registration process, millions of users were unable to register their SIM card because of the TCRA requirement to adduce a national identity card, despite the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (2010) allowing a potential subscriber to produce “any other document” to prove their identity. The linkage of SIM card registration to the production of an identification card will continue denying millions of people access to digital communication tools and services, which enable the rights to freely express and associate oneself online.