What has been alarming about the talk shows, social networks and even traditional media coverage of the biggest penalty in regulatory history being faced by MTN in Nigeria, for failing to register SIM cards, is the apparent lack of concern about the chilling effect mandatory SIM registration has had on the spread of information and communications technologies (ICT).
This is a key driver of economic growth and development on the continent, and the stealth with which a pervasive continental and global surveillance system has been deployed through private resources should set off alarm bells.
Despite little evidence that mandatory SIM registration contributes to safeguarding our digital security or physical safety, it has become a universal regulatory standard in Africa to facilitate the monitoring and interception of communications. With little to no public debate about the wider social or political effects, and in the face of evidence of negative effects on connectivity — particularly for the poor — by 2014, 49 of the 55 countries in Africa had mandated SIM card registration or were in the process of doing so.
This is a significantly higher proportion than in other regions. According to international industry body GSMA; in 2013, African countries made up 37 of the 80 countries globally that had mandated prepaid SIM registration.
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