New draft ICASA regulations would require mobile service providers to collect users’ biometric data

In the future, you may need to provide your biometric data to mobile service providers when obtaining a new mobile number. The same applies when requesting a SIM card exchange. So says the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

A new set of draft regulations from the regulator is explicit about the need for MSPs to collect biometric data from users. This requirement is part of a larger set of changes to the country’s numbering plan regulations from 2016. Most of these changes only really affect service providers such as Vodacom or MTN. But the biometric requirement will have a direct impact on the everyday person.

ICASA identity crisis?

The new regulation amendment – 6A, which governs the activation, deactivation and recycling of numbers – calls for the collection of biometric data. Specifically, the “…licensee shall ensure that it collects and links [sic] the biometric data of the subscriber to the number” when requesting a new telephone number. Whoever sold you your phone contract should also ensure that up-to-date biometrics are kept on file.

This extends to SIM card swaps, which seems to be the main reason for this requirement. “If a subscriber requests a SIM swap, Licensee must ensure that the biometric data of the user requesting the SIM swap matches the biometric data associated with the mobile number.”

If the biometric information does not match, the exchange must be refused. MSPs are also expected to use their new collection of credentials only for user authentication. How this will be applied remains a mystery.

The exact form that these biometric data should take also remains mysterious. The amendment defines it as “…the measurement and statistical analysis of the unique physical and behavioral characteristics of people”. According to this definition, a voice password, fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition could potentially be used. Fingerprints would probably be the simplest to implement and the easiest to spot. If someone switches to a SIM swap with a cut thumb, they should probably be arrested.

ICASA’s changes to the Numbering Plan Regulations are open for public comment until May 11, 2022. If you forget to speak up right away, Dear South Africa will likely send you an email reminder soon.

Comments are closed.