Bill 1083 “On electronic communications” which among other things provided for the mandatory registration of personal data of all SIM card holders, was temporarily withdrawn due to the turbulent reaction of society. Is the violation of subscribers’ anonymity really so unacceptable?

Does it remind the dictatorial laws of January 16?

The bill was registered on Thursday, August 29, and on Tuesday, September 3, it was already withdrawn because the citizens remembered that there was a similar norm in the infamous dictatorial laws of January 16 which led to Euromaidan. It introduced the concept of identification of a telecommunication card (SIM card, USIM card and the like). The provision of telecommunication services using such a card was proposed to be carried out on the basis of a contract concluded between the telecommunications operator and the consumer.

What was proposed by the initiators of the Bill 1083, the deputies from the Servant of the People faction, this time? The article 56 Procedure for the provision and receipt of electronic communication services contains the following requirement: “The contract for the provision of electronic communication services shall be concluded in writing or in any other form. In case of the conclusion of such an agreement in any other form than written, the individual subscribers that are natural persons shall be registered by the provider of electronic communication services with the provision of personal data in accordance with the law.”

The norm is really similar but a significant difference is that the Dictatorial laws took a large package that, beside the registration of SIM cards, offered quite inadequate to restrict the type of arrest for helping the protests, including setting a tent or wearing a protective helmet. Besides, all this was accompanied by absolutely unacceptable police violence against protesters.

Mobile operators already offer SIM card registration service

How do mobile operators feel about this bill? The press secretary of PJSC Ukrtelecom Matvii Kazakevych said that he was invited to a meeting to discuss the shortcomings of this document on September 2 and 3 before the recall. There were dozens of telecom workers at the meeting, and all of them submitted their comments to improve the bill.

Matvii Kazakevych himself believes that the registration of SIM cards with the provision of passport is quite a European practice which has been used for a long time in different EU countries. “For example, in Poland, it is impossible to buy a starting package without a passport since June 2016,” he reminds. “Fraud with bank cards, frequent false minings of various facilities and government agencies are all consequences of depersonalization of subscribers and their terminal equipment. At the same time, the issue of subscribers identification should not limit the principles of their freedom in any way.”

Viktoriia Pavlovska, a spokeswoman of Vodafone Ukraine, is confident that even after the adoption of such a law, the registration of SIM cards will not begin soon. “Customer identification is a complex and time-consuming process when there are millions of customers,” she says. “It is possible to implement it within two years from the entry of the necessary legislative norms into force, not earlier.”

By the way, the company Vodafone Ukraine is already conducting voluntary identification for its customers who are interested in it since it gives certain advantages: for example, protection against possible attempts of fraud with a SIM card and the ability to use services that are not available to unregistered customers. Vodafone Ukraine is also invited to discuss this bill in the profile committee of the Verkhovna Rada.

Human rights activists warn against abuse

Vitalii Moroz, the head of the new media programs at the public organization Internews-Ukraine, warns that the registration of sim cards in Ukraine is a very risky business since our mobile operators are quite less trusted than their colleagues in the EU countries. (And this is understandable: after all, about 85% of the mobile services market in Ukraine belong to the Russian owners and about 15% to the Turkish ones. What if the Russian business decides to transfer personal data of the Ukrainian users to its government? – O. S.) “Mobile communication salons which process the subscriber data and have access to the subscriber profiles can abuse user data,” Vitalii Moroz says. “Besides, operators already analyze a lot of information about users even without registration, for example, their location, user behavior, income level through behavioral analysis. Now Ukrainian users remain anonymous, and the right to anonymity is a basic digital right, the narrowing of which might bear negative consequences.”

A media lawyer of the Institute of Mass Media Ali Safarov draws attention to the fact that the provisions of paragraph 1 of the second part of article 56 of the bill does not contain a mandatory condition about a passport, only determines the need to provide personal data of subscribers. “Such a requirement, on the one hand, facilitates the protection of persons whose rights are violated via the Internet or via mobile communication,” Ali Safarov says. “For example, in the case of threats to a journalist, which is a criminal offense. On the other hand, this formalization of the relationship complicates the procedure for concluding a contract and facilitates the tracking of the end-users of electronic devices for electronic communication by the state.”

Ali Safarov believes that it is impossible to unambiguously define Bill 1083 as harmful to society since the implementation of certain provisions of the bill will make it impossible to make anonymous threats, false reports about mining, etc.

How many countries of the world practice SIM card registration?

The GSMA organization that unite more than 750 mobile operators worldwide, has released the policy brief Access to Mobile Services and Proof of Identity 2019: Assessing the impact on digital and financial inclusion. This document contains the most recent statistics on the registration of SIM cards around the world, as well as estimates of this phenomenon.

According to GSMA, at the end of 2018, more than 5.1 billion people have mobile phones, which is 67% of the world’s total population (compared with 66% in 2017). Most mobile phones (75% in the world and 94% in Africa) are based on a prepaid SIM card. 90% of them are active in the countries where you need an acceptable proof of identity to register and use a SIM card on your own behalf.

As of December 2018, GSMA estimates that 150 governments require identification from individuals who wish to activate a SIM card. It is worth noting here that the GSMA mistakenly indicated Ukraine in blue on its map, and therefore the number of such governments are not 150 but 149, or 76.4% of the total.

SIM-картка за паспортом: «за» і «проти»

By the way, GSMA fears that under such conditions, a huge number of inhabitants of the Earth will have to use mobile communication illegally because, according to the World Bank, about one billion people around the world (13%) do not have any documents, which means that the SIM card will not be sold to them.

Governments of the world apply different approaches to the implementation of the policy of SIM card registration. GSMA has consolidated these approaches into three categories:

Accumulation and storage

Mobile operators are required to collect and maintain a register of personal data about the subscriber. The composition of this information sheet depends on the country. As of December 2018, approximately 85% of the countries that require SIM card registration follow this approach.

Accumulation and transfer

Mobile operators are obliged to collect and transfer personal data about the subscriber to the government representatives or a special regulator on a mandatory basis without a special request. As of December 2018, approximately 4% of the countries that require SIM registration follow this approach.

Accumulation and confirmation

Mobile operators are required to collect and confirm personal data about the subscriber that already exists in the government database. As of December 2018, only 11% of countries that require SIM card registration follow this approach. 11 countries (7%) require mobile operators to use biometric authentication processes when registering their customers’ SIM cards.

As you can see, although the registration of mobile subscribers with a passport limits the freedom of the individual, yet the governments of many countries of the world resort to this measure to prevent the spread of terrorism and fraud. What is better: freedom or security? Total anonymity or total control? This is a question that the citizens entrust to their governments.

Text by Oleh Shynkarenko.

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