9 March 2018

Uganda Orders a Freeze On Sale of New SIM Cards

Uganda has stopped the sale of new SIM cards until telcos install card readers that will electronically validate national identity cards.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on Friday instructed all telecom operators to recall all SIM cards that are held in stock by street vendors, agents and hawkers.

The sale will only be allowed once the operators have access to the National Identification and Registration Authority database, where they be able to electronically confirm the authenticity of the identity cards.

"The sale of SIM cards through hawkers, street vendors or agents and any other establishment that aren't licensed by the Kampala City Authorities or other municipal town authorities is not allowed. These operators shall immediately recall and deactivate all pre-activated and or pre-registered SIM cards that are currently in stock," the agency said.

Crime

This new directive came after revelations that criminals involved in the murder of Susan Magara used more than 17 SIM cards in a bid to beat any attempt to trace their true identity.

It also follows last week's move by Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of ICT, who asked UCC to investigate the existence of active SIM cards that are not properly registered but are being used to undertake criminal activities in the country.

Telco firm Airtel, a majority of whose numbers were allegedly used to demand ransom by Ms Magara's killers three weeks before killing her, said the SIM cards had been registered. When The EastAfrican called the numbers, they were either out of service or switched off.

The government has also directed the telecommunications firms to expedite arrangements for the establishment and activation of the Central Equipment Identification Register (CEIR). It also ordered them to make available facilities on their respective networks through short code 197 to enable the public to verify which numbers are registered.

Approval requirements

"For integration of the API to the operator's networks and installation of the CEIR, working committees comprising representatives from the operators and UCC have been duly constituted with instructions to commence work immediately," it said.

API is an application programming interface that specifies how software components interact.

Ugandan telecom operators will also prioritise the establishment and implementation of facilities on their respective networks to deny access to any subscriber whose equipment doesn't comply with the Commission's type approval requirements.

"These operators shall obtain type approval from UCC for all network equipment used and subscriber terminals/devices sold by respective operators in Uganda. The operators shall forthwith be liable for any violation of Commission directives by their staff or agents whether such violation is by omission, commission or otherwise," said UCC.

MTN and Airtel, the two largest of Uganda's eight telcos, issued statements confirming that they would comply with the new directives.

Last week, the ICT minister, Mr Tumwebaze put on notice all mobile service providers who fail to switch off illegally acquired SIM cards, saying they would be penalised and/or have their licences revoked.

"The Cabinet has taken this position and we will enforce it without exception," he said.

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