The Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation (MoCD) will launch the National SIM Card Registration Exercise across the country on, 1 October 2021.
The Subscriber Identity Module Registration Regulations, 2011, L.I 2006 mandates network operators or service providers to activate a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) only after the subscriber registers the SIM as directed by the NCA.
The Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful said this when she took her turn at the Minister’s Press Briefing at the Ministry of Information’s Press Center on, Sunday, 5th September, 2021.
According to her, every subscriber is required to provide the name and residential or occupational address, date of birth, in the case of an individual; and Certificate of Incorporation, in the case of a body corporate; or registration, in the case of a partnership or an unincorporated body of persons; and an identification document. Only the National Identity Card (Ghana Card) issued to an individual shall be used for registration of SIM cards of citizens, foreign residents and foreigners staying in Ghana for more than 90 days.
She further explained that in the case of foreigners staying in Ghana for less than 90 days, a valid passport or other travel document is required.
“This isn’t the first attempt to register sims but all the previous efforts failed because of the lack of a verifiable secure identification document” she noted. Mrs Owusu-Ekuful indicated that the above situation also led to the influx of pre-registered SIM Cards in the system hence their inability to track and trace people who commit crimes with the SIM cards.
“The prevalence of fake IDs and a non-existent system of verifying the IDs, led to unscrupulous individuals procuring hundreds of SIM Cards for SIM Boxing leading to the loss of revenue for the state. The Ghana card provides the basis for a successful sim registration exercise this time”, she said.
Benefits of Registration
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful stressed that “SIM registration, when undertaken correctly as we intend to do, will reduce or eliminate fraudulent and criminal activities, help authorities ascertain the accurate number of valid and accurate SIMs on the networks, enable operators to build better demographics of their customer base and help them develop products and services to suit the various groupings”.
She says the Regulator, NCA, will also get more accurate data to regulate the industry even better.
She indicated that SIM Registration will enhance economic growth as more confidence is built in the telecommunications sector and people utilize secure devices to access E-Government services and other private mobile based digital solutions. “It will minimize mobile money fraud and support financial inclusion across the vulnerable sectors” Minister added.
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful outlined the modalities for SIM Registration. These include:
1. All new subscribers will have to produce their Ghana card to acquire a new SIM card. For Businesses to register sims in bulk, the Operators will be required to verify the Business Registration documents with the Registrar General’s Department and verify the identity of the Shareholder or the Director for Limited Liability companies and Public Institutions respectively.
2. Existing subscribers will register their SIMS via USSD and a sim registration App.
3. The verification of all subscribers and businesses will be against the databases of the National Identification Authority and the Registrar General’s Department where necessary. Indeed, for the Businesses, in addition to verifying from the Registrar General’s Department that that Business is valid, a shareholder or director of the organisation will have to personally be linked to the registration of the SIMs.
4. Individuals can register a total number of 10 SIM Cards across all networks and Foreigners will have a limit of 3 SIM Cards across all networks. Let me caution here, that people should not think that they can hide behind Businesses and register as many SIM Cards as they want. All SIM Cards registered to a Business will be linked to a Shareholder or Director of the Business and if a Business SIM Card is found to have been engaged in a fraudulent activity, the Shareholder or Director will be held liable.
5. The NCA will develop mechanisms to enable subscribers (individual and Businesses) check and verify all SIM Cards which have been registered in their names at all times.
6. Foreigners visiting Ghana can acquire a SIM Card using their Passports or Travel Card but they can only use the SIM Card for 30 days after which it will be deactivated. Foreigners intending to use a SIM Card for more than 30 days will have to obtain the Non-Citizen Ghana Card to do so. The NCA has made it mandatory for the Operators to verify Passports and Travel Cards against an international database before registering and activating a SIM Card for Foreigners. Special arrangements will be made for diplomatic personnel living and working in Ghana.
7. One of the interesting things we are also doing is to enforce Regulation 6 of the SIM Regulations which states that:
1) “A network operator or service provider that provides international roaming service in the country to a subscriber from another country shall enter into an agreement with the network operator or service provider of that subscriber”.
2) “The agreement shall provide for the particulars of the subscriber in the records of the network operator or service provider during the period that the subscriber uses the Subscriber Identity Module in the country”.
We believe that enforcing this will address the potential issue of would be fraudsters and criminals using SIM Cards from other countries to roam on Ghanaian networks to engage in crime.
8. The minimum age for registration has been set at 15 years, taking into consideration the increased use of communications services since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic and to facilitate E education.
9. For the very first time in Ghana, there will be a SIM Register just like countries like Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, which will serve as a database giving comprehensive statistics regarding number of subscribers in Ghana and providing a resource for tracking fraudsters and criminals.
10. Barring any unforeseen eventualities, SIM Registration will begin on 1st October, 2021 for a six (6) month period and end on 31st March, 2022. Any sim which is not registered at the end of this exercise will be blocked.
11. The NIA is opening Regional and District Offices to enable Ghanaians who have not registered for their Ghana Card to be able to do so and we encourage all Ghanaians and Foreigners resident in Ghana to ensure that they have their Ghana Cards and Non-Citizen Ghana Card ready. In addition, those who have registered but have not picked up their Ghana Cards should be able to do so from the various NIA offices.
Data Security and Protection
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful explained registration details will be accessed upon receipt of a court order to aid law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute fraud and other criminal activities and to aid emergency and National Security matters such as terrorist attack, national disasters and public health emergency.
The data, she said, will be stored in a Central SIM Registry at the National Information Technology Agency with very restricted access to the database. “There will be strict compliance with the Data Protection Act 2012 (Act 843). Furthermore, the Data Protection Commission is a major stakeholder in this exercise” she added.
Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)
Government will also be implementing handset and equipment registration alongside the SIM registration and set up the CEIR as stated in the Executive Instrument 63 Minister, MoCD says.
“The Central Equipment Identity Register connects to MNOs’ systems in a non-intrusive manner in order to aggregate all IMEIs coming from all the local operators in a single national IMEI database”.
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful says that Mobile device manufacturers estimate that about 5 million mobile devices are imported into the country annually but the necessary customs duties and taxes are paid on only 60 % of these imports. “Data from Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), confirms that 40 per cent of these mobile devices enter the Ghanaian market illegally, without Government benefiting from the expected tax revenue, adding, Ghana has about 34 million mobile subscribers with a mobile penetration rate exceeding 119% and there is a huge market for mobile devices.
According to her, the unregulated market in Ghana has resulted in a thriving device black market with sales of smuggled mobile devices, a high incidence of device theft and cloning device identifications. Smuggled devices are sold through visible retail sites, unofficial retail outlets and online websites.
The impact of the She says smuggling and trade of counterfeit mobile devices include the following:
1. Loss of revenue to government because these products enter the market through unapproved routes and avoid the payment of the necessary duties and taxes.
2. Registered businesses have to battle unfair competition from smuggled devices which are cheaper and threaten the survival of legitimate businesses.
3. Health Implications due to products not designed to meet regulatory requirements on the market resulting in high RF exposure which may cause cancer and other diseases and dangerous battery explosion.
4. Poor hardware & software design leading to higher call drops, which exhaust the network resources resulting in poor service quality and customer experience.
5. Influx of stolen phones shipped from other countries by criminal syndicates
6. Creates an incentive for the theft and resale of devices, increasing the crime rate and heightening the sense of insecurity among citizens. These stolen devices can also be used to commit other crimes.
Establishment of the central equipment identity registry
The Communications and Digitalisation Minister further revealed, that to address the challenge of the smuggling and trade in counterfeit, stolen and substandard mobile devices, and increase the potential for enhanced revenues, technology has been developed to ensure that these devices only function when they enter the country through legal means.
“A Central Equipment Identity Registry (CEIR) records all devices in the country and reduces the influx of smuggled and counterfeit mobile devices”.
She says each operator has an Equipment Identity Registry (EIR) which is a database that contains all the IMEI numbers of the handsets of all the subscribers on a particular cellular network. She noted that the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a unique identity code, which is given to all Global System for Mobile (GSM) devices. “When the mobile device is connected to a particular network, the MSC requests the IMEI of that mobile device and then it is sent to the EIR for further authorization process.
CEIR is a central EIR database which integrates IMEI numbers of EIR of all the networks. As the information is stored in the CEIR, it will be periodically updated in the EIR of all the networks” she said.
The Ghana CEIR, she revealed, will be connected to the global database (GSMA database) to access the IMEI of approved and blacklisted devices. This will ensure that mobile devices entering the country are properly authenticated. It will also be connected to the databases of all mobile network operators in Ghana, to synchronize and update data of blacklisted and whitelisted devices in Ghana. “This will ensure that only approved mobile devices recognized by the CEIR would function in Ghana. It will generate and store a list of all blacklisted and whitelisted devices in our own repository”.
Touching on the importation of mobile devices, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful explained that it will require that the IMEI of the devices are captured on the CEIR database during declaration. The captured information will synchronize with the GSMA database and confirm the standard and ownership status of the device. Compliance to customs duty payment will be ensured during the declaration process.
Government, she says has initiated good indigitalisation initiatives and innovations in Ghana and expanding the focus beyond access by implementing programs and plans that focus on the widespread secure adoption and usage of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). ” It is important to encourage the usage of digital applications by consumers, businesses, and public institutions and we are working to establish and maintain secured digital platforms, applications and systems in Ghana. Government believes that having a SIM database and CEIR with integrity is a key step towards enhancing our digitalisation”.
She encouraged all subscribers to begin getting their national IDs in order to have a smooth and easy registration process.
“Consumers and the general public must be empowered with knowledge and insights to help them understand the need for re-registration, the process and the requirement for registration. As partners in the industry, we invite all media houses to help achieve this objective and we count on your support. A detailed publicity exercise will be conducted on these issues in the coming days and we entreat the media to partner government to make this registration exercise a success for our collective good, she said.