The Malawi Regulatory Authority (Macra) has said Malawians will be required to register their prepaid SIM cards by end of 2014 once relevant legal framework is put in place.
The communications regulator was reacting to comments by experts who have so far argued that SIM card registration is important due to its implications on security and privacy.
Responding to an e-mailed questionnaire on Wednesday, Macra communications officer Blessings Samuel Phumisa acknowledged that SIM card registration will reduce incidents of fraud and crime as well as documenting the total subscriber base.
He, however, cautioned that there is need for a legal framework to regulate the process.
“We have already started working on the regulations on SIM card registration but the process cannot be done overnight as it involves a number of stakeholders. Macra is also reviewing the Communications Act which will give SIM card registration statutory mandate.
“Parallel to review of the Act, government is also establishing an Electronic Transaction Bill which will outline legal obligations to be placed on any person processing other people’s personal information. The two pieces of legislation will involve Parliament while regulations involve other stakeholders such as operators,” said Phumisa.
But other experts have noted that SIM card registration and other new regulations introduced could have a negative impact on growth of the sector.
A German researcher Nicola Jentzsch in her paper on implications of mandatory registration of mobile phone users in Africa, notes the majority of countries in Africa have introduced mandatory registration for prepaid SIM cards users.
The paper argues that this potentially increases the costs of using mobile phones and would depress growth in mobile penetration.
But Macra is wary that the process may stall because for effective SIM registration, there is need for formal identification of individuals.
Phumisa noted that the delay in implementing the project could come from lack of formal national identities for Malawi which is also compounded by lack of post coding and physical addressing system in Malawi that can link identification documents to exact locations of individuals who hold those documents.
Macra hoped that the National Identity Project was going to take off, but in the continued absence and delay means that identification currently available in the country is limited to passports, driving licences and voter registration cards.
He also noted that there is lack of statutory obligation for persons, operators or their agents who will be processing personal data of individuals during Sim card registration to ensure that information that is collected is not abused.