On Macra, sim registration and CIRMS

In Macra’s ongoing sim card registration excercise, some interesting issues have been brought to the fore. But first a little background.

In 2016 Malawi passed into law the Electronic Transactions & Cyber Security Act (E- Transactions Act). The act generally applies to electronic transactions (e-transactions) such as the exchange of information or data, the sale or purchase of goods or services online and other public or private transactions conducted over the internet.

Macra sim card registration exercise

The act also has some regulatory provisions, among them the power to enforce mandatory registration of sim cards and generic numbers by Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA). The sim card registration is intended to help law enforcers to identify the mobile phone sim card owners, track criminals who use phones for illegal activities, curb incidents such as loss of phone through theft, hate text messages, fraud, inciting violence and help service providers know their customers better.

Macra has requested Malawians to register with their respective network operators before the end of March 2018.

But the communication has not always been clear. Take some of the comments on Macra’s Facebook post below.

People have expressed concern about the distance rural folk have to travel to register in this exercise. Macra has given reassurances that those people will be catered for on market days although this was not immediately clear from the onset.

Another issue that people raised is that network operators normally collect information when subscribers are registering for services like mobile money services. Why couldn’t Macra use that information? There doesn’t seem to be an answer for that but without wanting to second guess them, perhaps the type of information collected for that registration is not up to Macra’s standard. Perhaps some of that information is outdated. I for one registered for mobile money a few years ago.

Then there are those who seem to have no idea why this exercise is taking place. Anything to do with registration is treated as suspicious and an attempt by the government to track its citizenry. But if the message hasn’t been communicated properly I suppose it is in their right to become suspicious.

Online Registration

But I did make an observation when registering my sim card. Being 2018 I found the process awkwardly 2008-ish. Too much paper! The likelihood of the forms we filled getting lost is high. Unreadable forms and errors being entered into whatever system they have are also very high. Then pinning wrong identification to wrong forms. My identification was handed over to someone else after it was photocopied! What assurance do I have the copy was not pinned to the wrong form?

How about mobile-friendly online forms? Heck, it’s 2018! With most smartphones having a camera, capture of an identification card would not be much of a problem. The process of filling paper forms could be left to subscribers without access to a smartphone. But even then, an operator could fill details on a device (phone or tablet) and a then take a picture of your identification. It just makes the process simpler and smarter.

Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System

One other unfortunate thing from the registration exercise is the spreading of fake messages discouraging people from registering for various reasons. Macra has come out to advise people not to be confused by those incorrect and sometimes alarmist messages.

And this brings up a similar issue on Macra’s Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS). The CIRMS is a system used to monitor mobile network operators, including aspects like quality of service, revenue assurance, fraud and spectrum management. Macra announced that it had purchased the system a couple of years ago.

Mobile operators tired and failed to block the system from being implemented. They claimed CIRMS would violate the privacy of subscribers but the High Court ruled mid-2017 that Macra can proceed with the monitoring system and that its use was a lawful limitation to the right to privacy, information and freedom of expression. The Court said that the Communications Act empowers Macra to monitor the activities of its licensees to fulfil its statutory obligations.

Referring to CIRMS as a #SpyMachine is not helpful. It is the obligation of the media, and even the network operators who opposed the system, to help educate the masses on the real uses of the CIRMS. If organisations with influence continue to create suspicion then we will not see an end to hoax messages, edited to suit the Malawian context, making the rounds on social media and Whatsapp. We need to communicate facts!

By the way, does the Communication Act criminalise sending and promotion of hoax messages?


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