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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stop SIM pack hawking – ATCON

As members of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) meet today in Lagos for its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and election of new executive members, one item topping the agenda is the proposal to urgently accredit Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) pack in the country.

This would automatically bring to a halt the hawking of SIM cards on the streets of the nation.

SIM pack contains SIM card and other valuable information for customers or potential subscribers. SIM card is a small electronic card also called smart card used in mobile phones which carries the phone number and has the operator’s serial numbers, thereby used in identifying a telecom subscriber on a given network.

ATCON on the other hand is the umbrella body of about 161 telecom firms in the country and founded in 1992.

The proposed accreditation, according to ATCON national president, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, would aid national security greatly.

He told newsmen on Friday at a press conference in Lagos that the call has become necessary due to the security repercussions, just as they requested for mandatory call data retention database of all telecom operators to boost cyber-security initiatives of the government.

Dr. Ekuwem said that the accreditation being proposed would avail the nation a database of telecom subscribers, especially on the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) platform among others.

Lamenting that as at today, Nigeria is the only country where you could pick a SIM pack just on the street because it’s hawked without relevant data of the buyer.

He explained that in other countries of the world, SIM packs are sold in shops where relevant data of the buyer is captured including details of the international passport data page.

According to him, if a SIM after being purchased on the street is used to commit a crime it would be hardly traced, this is because the buyer may have used false name.

He pointed out that without the capturing of other important part of the buyers information such as in photographic capturing, the SIM in question could be used to perpetrate any evil act untraced.

Disagreeing with those who think the suggested accreditation would impact negatively on the sales record of operating companies and penetration of their networks, Dr. Ekuwem said, rather than allow the illegality of picking SIMs on the street to continue, its better for the nation and her citizenry to get it right now and support the reform.

“… Which would assist security agencies in curbing crimes committed via telecom and using GSM platform, which subscriber-base is over 42 million as at January 2008,” he said.

Noting that presently, there is need for the accreditation because whosoever makes a call or send Short Messaging Service (SMS) that is inimical to the national security may not be traced.

This, he said, would help the nation’s law enforcement agencies including the Police, Economic and Finance Crime Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), State Security Services (SSS), Customs and Immigration to name a few, in carrying out their responsibilities effectively.

As said by him, the urgent need to accredit SIM packs in the country, would be top on the agenda of ATCON at its AGM and NEC election holding today.

While urging support from the stakeholders on the subject, Dr. Ekuwem said their input is crucial to make certain its victory as the deliberation take centre stage.

He argued that this exercise when accepted and guidelines issued by the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) would significantly advance criminal investigations in the country.

Ekuwem noted that in moving forward, ATCON is canvassing for a defined and registered distribution of dealer channels for SIM packs for the operating companies.

He highlighted that sale of SIM packs after accreditation expected to start after a moratorium of about six months or one year by any dealer or seller in the country would involve a photocopy of the buyer’s international passport data page or national identification card, filling of accreditation form containing basic bio data and contact address information.

“Only accredited phone numbers should exist in the operator’s subscriber database after the moratorium,” he said.

ATCON, he said, is advocating that this database be highly classified as confidential and passworded, which means that it would be restricted to on-line access to subscriber bio-database by appropriate law enforcement agencies via a multilaterally agreed access due process.

Equally, ATCON calls for mandatory call data retention database of all telecom operators to aid cyber security initiatives, with a platform drawn from relevant agencies to manage the database, adding that even new business in form of data warehousing, data mining and storage area networks would spring up with the successful SIM accreditation.

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