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MTC adamant on biometric data amid privacy concerns

MTC has maintained that customers who do not provide facial and fingerprint data during SIM registration will not be fully registered and will be cut from MTC’s mobile services next year.

This is as MTC’s insistence on biometric data collection, in addition to basic information such as name, date of birth, address, and a copy of identification documents, have been met with widespread scepticism.

The Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) will on 1 January 2024 cancel all SIM cards not registered with mobile operators.

MTC has so far registered 969 235 SIM cards, 459 954 clients and carried out 68 538 SIM replacements.

According to MTC, the SIM card registration announcement created an opportunity to introduce its previously voluntary customer registration tool, MTC Verifi.

MTC Verifi, first introduced in 2020, was a voluntary tool that registers a specific mobile number to a specific individual and requires customers to provide a facial scan and fingerprints.

MTC now uses the Verifi tool in the SIM card registration process, therefore, all MTC customers will be forced to provide biometrics in order to own a MTC SIM card next year.

MTC chief marketing officer Tim Ekandjo said the inclusion of biometric data as part of SIM card registration is a cybercrime prevention measure.

“Information obtained via Verifi will not be shared with any other operator or institution and will remain confidential,” Ekandjo said.

He said MTC understands that the provision of biometric data is categorised as personal data, therefore, the Verifi tool is operated in terms of the draft Namibian data protection bill and further adheres to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the African Union’s Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection.

He said MTC has in the past been defrauded by customers presenting false identification documents, therefore, with the Verifi tool this can be avoided.

“MTC has seen an 80% decrease in fraudulent activities since the introduction of SIM card registration, as customers can no longer purchase SIM cards without having the SIM card registered. Verifi will allow for accurate registration of SIM cards and remove the risk of presentation of false identification during the SIM registration process,” Ekandjo said.

MTC said that it is not the first and only company moving towards biometrics registration, adding that other companies utilise biometric data in order to process tasks, and as part of registering their customers.

“The gathering of biometrics in Namibia is a process that has been in place with some medical aid funds, insurance companies and in the financial industry space,” Ekandjo said.

Ekandjo said the data collected from customers is safely stored in the company’s cloud and securely protected from hackers.

Meanwhile, cybercrime and data protection policy researcher Frederico Links has said storing such personal data in one central place is a risk.

“Such centralised databases of sensitive customer information are attractive to cyber criminals and data breaches of such databases are not uncommon,” Links said.

Meanwhile, African countries like Lesotho, Ghana and Tanzania have published regulations requiring biometric registration for SIM card registration, and South Africa’s communications regulator has started the process of introducing biometrics in the SIM card registration process.

Privacy International in 2019 reported that SIM card registration can allow for a more pervasive system of mass surveillance of people who can access prepaid SIM cards, as well as exclusion from important civic spaces, social networks and education and healthcare for people who cannot.

“Such laws can allow the state to identify the owner of a SIM card and infer who is likely to be making a call, sending a message, in a particular location at any particular time, or making a particular financial transaction through a money transfer app,” Privacy International wrote.

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