SIM Registration Inadequate for National Identity, Stakeholders Insist

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President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola

By Emma Okonji

Stakeholders in the information and communications technology sector have said it is out of place for government and the general public to consider the registration of subscriber identification module (SIM) cards as part of national identity system for the country.
According to them, SIM cards cannot serve as permanent identities because they are not owned by the subscribers and could be reassigned to other subscribers at the discretion of the service provider, and should therefore not be counted as a means of building database of subscribers for the purpose of national identity system.

The stakeholders made the assertion while reacting to public outcry that the telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), ought to have harmonised SIM card registration it embarked upon in 2011, in order to give clearer picture of the database of SIM registration across all telecoms networks, that will support the country’s identity management system.
Statistics released by NCC in April 2019, had put the total number of SIM cards registered and processed across the country at 151.5 million, out of which only 55.7 million were valid, accounting for 63.2 per cent of the total records of invalid registration as a result of invalid face and fingerprints capturing.

Owing to this, the President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, told THISDAY that it was not proper for the general public to think that SIM card registration could suffice for identity management system.

“It is absolutely wrong to think that SIM card registration could be used to build up database for identity management. The SIM card that is registered with a subscriber, does not have a permanent identity of the subscriber because the same SIM card could be withdrawn from the registered subscriber and reassigned for registration to another telecoms subscriber. “Again the issue of multiple SIM registered with a single subscriber, makes it absolutely difficult to use such data for identity management, since it will be difficult to trace and track down people with ulterior motives who may want to hide their identities,” Teniola said.
According to him, Nigeria needs other forms of identity management system outside subscriber SIM card registration.
He advised the federal government to empower the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to seek other new channels of identity management system for the country.

“Nigeria needs other forms of identity management system that will identify each Nigerian with a National Identity Number (NIN). The country needs Digital Addressing System that will be able to capture identities of people, and their locations such that permanent numbers could be assigned to them,” Teniola said.

According to him, he was part of the team of engineers that designed the GSM Phase 1 technology for Nigeria when he worked with Bell Northern Research (BNR) from 1990 to 1993, where they used the MSISDNs, IMSIs and TIMSIs, as unique codes to define data sets for certain specific purposes that were used to build the foundation for 2G and 3G technologies.
He insisted that the GSM technology was never designed to build database for identity management system and should therefore not be considered for that purpose.

Corroborating Teniola, the Chaiman of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said the telecoms network was designed for the sole purpose of communication through voice and data and not for identity management system. He, however, said it could be used to complement identity management, but not as a means of identity management.
Adebayo, further explained that subscribers migrate and also port at will from one network to another, in line with NCC’s regulation, which he said made it difficult to use SIM card registration as a means of identity management.