A few hours after Uganda’s ICT experts said that a new directive for subscribers to re-register their SIM-cards using national ID cards in seven days is not practical, the country’s lawyers have questioned the legality of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) exercise.
“Our considered view is that the manner in which the directive has been imposed is problematic. The directive to use only the national ID is not supported by existing law,” Uganda Law Society said in a statement on Thursday.
ULS added that, “We are of the view that the directive should not be in violation of the existing legal framework. We request that you convene a stakeholders meeting to discuss these issues so that we can collectively put in place legally acceptable mechanisms that will not disenfranchise people from accessing communication.” SEE FULL STATEMENT BELOW
Early this week, (UCC) asked all existing subscribers to update their SIM-card registration information in seven days or they will be deactivated. National Identity Card (IDs) and passports, for the case of foreigners, will be used to verify, re-validate and re-register SIM-cards for all subscribers.
UCC made the announcement Tuesday at their headquarters in Bugolobi with UCC Executive Director Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi flanked by the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura.
The announcement came after a closed meeting between UCC, the telecoms, National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) and National Information Technology Authority (NIITA).
The meeting, Mutabazi said, had agreed that all existing subscribers should present their National Identification (IDs) or passports if they are foreigners to their operators for verification within seven days. Lists of verified subscribers by telecoms will be then be presented to NIRA for validation using their National ID database.
ICT experts speak out
Earlier on Thursday, Uganda’s Information Communication Technology Association (ICTAU) warned that a new directive for subscribers to re-register their SIM-cards “poses significant risks which, if not addressed, could have severe consequences for Uganda’s society and economy.”
ICTAU gave four reasons they thought the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directive did not make sense, concluding that “in summary, we strongly urge you to reconsider this directive. We are available to provide further guidance and consultations on the matter so as to maintain the growth momentum the sector has picked after previous switch offs due to directives from the Commission.”
They cited insufficient time allowed for re-verification; prohibitively strict identification requirements;
the fact mobile network operators are unable to validate Nations IDs ; impact on customers with mobile money wallets, and general financial sector services.
Two weeks back, UCC had ordered telecommunication companies to deactivate all unregistered or partially registered phone SIM-cards and stop selling pre-activated SIM-cards. There seems to have been a difficulty enforcing this, with the telecoms seeking police help now to implement it.
Mutabazi cited security concerns then for the new instructions, with Police warning that unregistered SIM-cards had been used by criminals, most recently before the murder of AIGP Felix Kaweesi.
The telecom operators on their part had requested access to the National ID database for verification of subscribers and SIM (subscriber identification module) registration.
This is the fourth deadline in Uganda related to SIM card registration the regulator is issuing to telecoms. The first closed in September 30, 2013 – after several extensions, and the second was in October 2015, and two weeks back.