Tanzania and Uganda have some of the harshest SIM card monitoring policies in the world, joining the league of Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
Tanzania, like Uganda, has adopted the use of fingerprint technology for SIM card registration purposes, which has been cited as a threat to privacy.
A report published recently by Comparitech, a UK-based pro-consumer website lists Tanzania at the top of the list of 150 countries, scoring 19 out of a maximum 21 points on a scale of worst to best policies. Saudi Arabia has 17 points in second position, while Uganda comes third with 15 points, tying with North Korea.
The findings come against the backdrop of the January 20 (Monday) deadline for all Tanzanian mobile phone users to complete reregistration of their SIM cards under a new biometric system.
The Comparitech study findings argue that SIM card registration threatens privacy, asserting that creating a database of citizens and their mobile numbers restricts private communications, increases the potential of them being tracked and monitored, enables governments to build in-depth profiles of their citizens, and risks private data falling into the wrong hands.
Tanzania does not have a comprehensive data protection law, although several rules and regulations addressing data regulation and data privacy exist.
“Authorities could selectively throttle, censor, or block internet connections of specific people or groups of people, giving way for harassment and persecution,” reads the report.
Also, SIM card interception access is allowed in Tanzania and equipment can be seized for law enforcement purposes, although it is not stated anywhere whether a warrant is required for such interceptions and seizures.
Penalties for failing to comply with the law include a Tsh15 million ($650,000) fine and or 12 months in prison for network licensees, and Tsh7 million ($300,000) fine and/or two years in prison for individual offenders.
Tanzania was however spared being scored 21 points, the worst rating, because individuals are allowed up to eight SIM cards from different service providers and the country’s law enforcement does not having invasive interception tools, although they can access data without a warrant.
Uganda doesn’t restrict the number of SIM cards owned and enforces the requirement of a warrant to access customer data. But according to the report, Uganda’s poor score is due to its biometric checks for SIM card registration, its capture and validate system, its lengthy storage retention laws (five years after a user contract is cancelled or terminated), and its use of fines and/or imprisonment for law benders whether customers or agents. In Uganda, such offenders can face up to 12 months imprisonment.
Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi are relatively better off. South Sudan wasn’t included in the study published.
According to Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), as of January 7, the compliance rate for reregistration below 50 per cent due to delays in the issuance of national identity cards.
Uganda, like Tanzania, has also adopted the use of fingerprint technology for SIM card registration purposes, but does better on other aspects of the measurement scale.
Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda scored 12, 11 and nine points respectively while surrounding countries like Somalia (10 points), Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia (eight points each) also featured in the upper echelons of the Comparitech list.