MTC defies CRAN

Martin Endjala

The Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) announced yesterday that it will continue with its controversial biometric data capturing process for the nationwide SIM card registration, despite directives of discontinuity by the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia(CRAN).

MTC Chief Human Capital, Corporate and Marketing Officer Tim Ekandjo, in a statement yesterday stated that they have taken note of the announcement by CRAN, however, their position is that the rationale behind their biometrics is part of their “Verifi” process, which he says is an extended and enhanced tool for customer authenticity considering increased cyber and online fraud often involving stolen identities.

In response, CRAN says they would take regulatory enforcement action against any operator who takes forceful capturing of mandatory biometric data from consumers for the process of SIM card registration.

The Executive Communication and Consumer Relations Officer Katrina Sikeni however did not specify what actions are to be constituted in regard to MTC’s announcement.

Last Friday, CRAN issued a directive for the discontinuation of biometric data capturing, following widespread concerns by the public.

“Verifi as part of the biometric data capturing process is done with the aim to offer additional security, which would then help tackle fraud and crime and offer customer convenience when it comes to their profiles with MTC”, Ekandjo said.

Ekandjo maintained that MTC is in “total unison” with the considerations of CRAN, but that biometric security is vital to the services it is rendering to its customers. He is adamant that members of the public are happy with the ongoing process pertaining to biometrics and that “the majority understand the security benefits that come with it”. He also revealed that they have to date, registered a total 1002, 032 SIM cards. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer Emilia Nghikembua told this publication that operators will only require the information as set out in the regulations, which includes, the name of the customer, address of ordinary residence, his or her Namibian ID, passport, or any other official identity document issued by the government of any other country.

Customers who, however, voluntarily choose to provide their biometrics data are welcome to do so. Asked about what would happen to customers whose biometrics data was already captured, Nghikembua said that the Authority will not issue a blanket directive on the fate of the biometrics data already captured, as it was captured under different circumstances with some consumers having consented to the capturing of their data.

“This is why the Authority has allowed consumers that voluntarily consent to the capturing of their biometrics to do so” explained Nghikembua. Nghikembua said to meet the objectives of the SIM registration process, all operators going forward will allow customers to register their SIM cards via processes that do not require the mandatory collection of biometric data. She, however, maintained that any aggrieved consumer may submit a complaint to the Authority and each complaint will be dealt with on its own merits.

“The crux of our decision is to simply ensure compliance with the requirements of the SIM Registration regulations and conditions, which do not make biometrics a mandatory requirement for registration”, she emphasised.

CRAN consistently received complaints from the public and from members of the media regarding the practice of mobile operators requesting biometric data during the SIM card registration process, in the absence of a data protection legislative framework.

CRAN says they have since held various consultations with the concerned operators to consider all concerns before a final decision could be made. Telecommunications service providers in Namibia have a period of six months to conclude the registration of all existing customers and must do so before the deadline of 23rd December 2023. Unregistered SIM cards after the due date will be deactivated.

Namibia in January commenced with the mandatory SIM card registration exercise, a national initiative aimed at facilitating the investigation of crimes committed with the aid of telecommunications devices and enhancing e-commerce activities and online trading.

Nghikembua also refuted rumours that sim card registrations have been discontinued, adding that it is not true and the only directive issue is the discontinuation of mandatory biometric data collection.

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