Nigeria Enforces Digital Identity Database
Nigeria has blocked the SIM cards of millions of people in an effort to force citizens to register with their national digital identity database. Is this the start of an international trend?
From Thomas Reuters Foundation News. Constance Chioma calls her son every morning to check that he is safe while studying in northeast Nigeria, a region plagued by deadly attacks by Islamist insurgents and armed kidnappings.
Earlier this month, she could not get through.
She later realised her SIM card was one of about 73 million – more than a third of the 198 million in Nigeria – which have been barred from making outgoing calls because they have not been registered in the national digital identity database….
Nigeria is among dozens of African countries including Ghana, Egypt and Kenya with SIM registration laws that authorities say are necessary for security purposes, but digital rights experts say increase surveillance and hurts privacy.
Nigeria has been rolling out 11-digit electronic national identity cards for almost a decade, which record an individual’s personal and biometric data, including fingerprints and photo.
The National Identity Number (NIN) is required to open a bank account, apply for a driver’s license, vote, get health insurance, and file tax returns.
In 2020, Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator said every active mobile phone number must be linked to the user’s NIN. It repeatedly extended the deadline until March 31 this year.
The government said outgoing calls were being barred from April 4 from any mobile phone numbers that had not complied.
Millions of Nigerians have not registered their SIM cards, for reasons ranging from concerns over privacy to problems reaching registration centres or not having a NIN….
Officials have said the policy is needed to bolster security and identify criminals as the government battles insurgents and armed bandits who have kidnapped hundreds of people for ransom….
Nigeria’s order to bar unregistered phones is “an infringement on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy” guaranteed by its constitution, said human rights lawyer Festus Ogun, managing partner at Festus Ogun Legal in Lagos.
“What law empowers them to shut out millions of citizens in this digital economy?” he said, referring to people relying on their phones for banking, mobile money payments, and accessing government services.
The barring of mobile phones has especially hurt women in rural areas with patchy mobile networks and poor road networks, who may lack the means to go to registration centres, according to human rights groups….
WAR ON CRIME
In Kenya too, authorities have directed citizens to register their mobile SIM cards, citing security reasons. The East African nation has almost 65 million mobile subscriptions.
“Financial fraud, kidnapping, terrorism and related crimes prevail in situations of compromised SIM card registration processes,” Ezra Chiloba, director general of the Communications Authority of Kenya, said on Twitter last week.
“How can we win the war against such crimes if we cannot participate by ensuring that we have updated records?”
An April 15 deadline for registration prompted thousands of Kenyans to inundate local telecom outlets in Nairobi, fearing they would be locked out of their phones….
How are you praying for the Nigerian citizens? Share this article to keep people informed.
(Excerpt from Thomas Reuters Foundation News. Photo Credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash)
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