from ALFRED SHILONGO in Windhoek, Namibia
WINDHOEK, (CAJ News) – THE extension of the deadline to register subscriber identity module (SIM) cards offers reprieve to thousands of Namibians whose cards the government was initially determined to disconnect.
The deadline, which was set for December 31 this past year, has been extended to March 31.
As of the end of 2023, the government disclosed that 62,5 percent of the active SIM card users have registered. This equates to 1,49 million registered, out of a total 2,38 million.
In December, the government insisted the deadline would not be extended.
Peya Mushelenga, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) said this extension provides more time for compliance and ensures a smooth transition.
Mobile operators have in turn encouraged their subscribers to make use of the opportunity provided by the government to register.
MTC Namibia, the industry leader, said as part of strategies to ensure registrations, it was intensifying its outreach efforts, focusing on informal settlements, peri-urban areas and rural communities.
It encouraged subscribers using smartphones to make the most of the online registration process it is offering.
The registration exercise has been a source of contention between the government and some civil society organisations, including the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
IPPR argues the compulsory SIM card registration, data retention and biometrics harvesting will degrade human rights and democracy in Namibia.
IPPR forecast “a perpetual mass surveillance will become the norm” in the country as mandatory SIM card registration and data retention are fully operationalised under regulations of the Communications Act of 2009.
Audrin Mathe, Executive Director at the Ministry of ICT, dismissed this as misleading and false.
“Privacy does not end,” he assured.
“What begins is an era where Namibia becomes the 158th country to have mandatory SIM card registration!”
Authorities have clarified that biometrics are not compulsory for the registration exercise.
The SIM card registration process, ongoing since 2022, is designed to combat crime aided by telecommunications devices.
Amid the divisive issue, Telecom Namibia has a bigger crisis in the form of cable theft, particularly in the capital Windhoek.
Clients in the areas of Cimbebasia, Kleine Kupe and Olympia were left without services this week.
“The interruptions are due to incidents of cable theft,” Telecom Namibia stated.
“We would like to emphasis that the vandalism and theft of Telecom Namibia infrastructure can lead to service interruptions.”
Industry expert, Ulrich Hanstein, bemoaned the issue.
“Our telecom services are caught in a real-life drama thanks to the elusive neighbourhood cable thief,” Hanstein commented.
– CAJ News