Using a prepaid SIM card is a popular way to stay anonymous. It’s also convenient for travelers, expats, people who only use cash, and others who don’t want to commit to a long-term mobile plan. But in many countries, anyone buying a prepaid SIM card must provide personal details, which are stored with the local government for identification. What does this mean for users?
Generally speaking, SIM-card registration is seen as an important measure to deter criminal activity such as fraud and identity theft. Conversely, invasive requirements for obtaining SIM cards in certain regions are seen as counter to anonymous communication, the ability for citizens to organize and protest, and one’s fundamental right to privacy. When staying anonymous is a key component for individuals like journalists and whistleblowers, rules surrounding SIM-card registration can be a significant hindrance.
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Currently, over 150 countries have implemented mandatory SIM-card registration laws. Requirements for the purchase and use of a prepaid SIM card vary across regions and can include providing photo identification and even various forms of biometrics.
Certain developing countries, such as Kenya, require registered SIM cards in order to apply for access to loans from financial institutions. Unfortunately, these types of laws also inhibit a significant portion of the world’s refugee population from accessing mobile phones, as refugees often lack legal identification.
Countries across Africa have some of the most extensive mandatory SIM-card registration laws. While the laws were initially implemented to curb online fraud, there is rising concern that some countries may abuse user data for mass surveillance and exclusion from vital services.
Currently, global SIM-card registration requirements are categorized into:
This includes proof of identity—either through driver’s license, passport, or other equivalent government-issued documentation. The required particulars being the submission of your name, date of birth, and home address—and in some cases, your gender and nationality.
ID required with biometrics in progress
For now, these regions are preparing for biometric data collection, but until this comes into effect, a traditional proof of identity will suffice.
Countries include: Afghanistan, Liberia
Biometrics required if ID is not available
In some regions, biometric data is acceptable in lieu of a traditional proof of identity. This can include fingerprints and facial scans.
Countries include: Mozambique
ID and biometrics not required
In these regions, there are no set laws or regulations requiring registration for the purchase and use of prepaid SIM cards.