The regulation issued under the purview of the Information and Communication Technologies Act, and coming into effect on 31st October 2023, requires all mobile operators in Mauritius to obtain, register and store not only new requests for SIM cards but also all existing SIM card holders. Details to be furnished by the existing cardholder and that have to be verified, registered and stored by the operator, include cardholder’s proof of address, National Identity Card (NIC) or copy of passport info and a colour photo/selfie which would be compared with the photo on the NIC/passport. The exercise has to be completed by 30th April 2024 failing which the card would be deactivated.
This is causing quite some stir in many circles despite the official justification of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) that this regulation stems from one of the 450 recommendations of the 2018 Lam Shang Leen Report on Drug Trafficking. The authorities have been somewhat vague on which recommendations of the five-year old Report have not been or will not be implemented (estimates provided of those implemented have varied from 60% to 80%) which makes it rather difficult to judge the merit or the sudden urgency of the proposed regulation.
Nobody would query a genuine though belated initiative to fight drug traffickers who may be using SIM cards of dead persons, departed tourists or other means to communicate with their suppliers or accomplices, yet several voices, legal and IT professionals have raised concerns that have yet to be satisfactorily answered by the ICTA. Two legists and opponents of the MSM regime, Me Rama Valayden and Ivor Tan Yan, have last week challenged the constitutionality of those regulations by taking the issue to the Supreme Court. We therefore do not expect the ICTA to answers other than in front of our highest Court, while senior Labour Party MP Arvin Boolell has asked the ICTA to shelve proceedings until the serious matters raised have been properly thrashed out in Court.
The fact that the ICTA with its Board of political appointees, has since several years, been under clouds of suspicion for unavowed motivations in what looks like Big Brother initiatives or proposals, does not help confidence build-up in the general public or in the Opposition that this regulation (rather than a legal imposition debated in Parliament) stems from a genuine desire to partake in government’s oft-repeated gambit to break the backs of drug barons.
Back in November 2020, the authorities had to backtrack from plans to merge the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), while the IBA itself came under criticism for going after private radio stations which were deemed critical of the government. Then in 2021, came the rather outlandish proposal to set up a proxy server to intercept all social media traffic and a National Digital Ethics Committee of political hacks that would have the power to take down and censor social media posts. Again, government backtracked after intense national and international denunciations of the ludicrous proposal.
We need not go further into why this new ICTA regulation suffers from an acute trust deficit, all the more so as an issue affecting at best some 1000 suspicious SIM card users, does not call for a blanket hammering of the civil liberties and the inherent right to privacy of all Mauritians. No guarantees have been provided either on the use of selfies or colour pics demanded by the ICTA from mobile phone operators, their storage on databases (against which the Supreme Court has already ruled) or even usage by third parties, despite any verbal assurances provided by the current CEO of Mauritius Telecom.
In an upcoming electoral year, it has even been rumoured that some MPs, PPSes and even Ministers also privately worry that CCTV facial recognition features may be used to interconnect with mobile Ids and track their movements around the island. Let us hope the ICTA, on behalf of government, will better reassure the Supreme Court of their intents and clarify the many unanswered questions before applying this regulation.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 1 December 2023
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