Sim-card registration process contested

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Mobile phone uses are skeptical over the registration of all prepaid mobile phone sim-cards saying its a ploy by State Security agents to keep surveillance on them.

Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) says 15 September will kick start the 17-month long exercise, which wraps up on 31 December 2009.

Thereafter, BTA will be mandated to disconnect all unregistered lines, it is being reported today.

But the sim-card registration has already raised eyebrows within Botswana’s media fraternity who fear the new measure will give security agents to put journalists on surveillance.

However, the BTA Chief Executive Officer, Thari Pheko, told the Botswana that the sim-card registration, which is in tandem with international best practices, has been intended purposely to track down criminals bent on using cellphones to commit crimes.

The process will provide a greater database of market information of mobile phones technology in the Southern African country thus ending dispute around the market leader, Pheko said.

It will also help combat cellphone theft because it will be easier to trace the sim-card and the phone.

Botswana journalists have not been convinced by the telecoms chief’s comments that the new measure “will not infringe on citizens’ liberties.”

Most of them feared that their country’s new President, Ian Khama who used his first day in office to paint the media as a “troublemaker,” will hide behind the regulation to hang critical journalists with the help of intelligence agents.

The Director of the regional media rights watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, is not supportive of the sim-registration. Thapelo Ndlovu said this will make it easy for security agents to target people, particularly media sources, to satisfy the interests – personal and political – of the political powers.

Ndlovu doubted the “sincerity” and “validity” of Pheko’s reasons, especially under an administration that does not hesitate to punish journalists for critical reporting on state issues.

Some journalists backed the regulation, arguing that it will do-away with abnormalities such as buying of sim-cards for a specific purpose only to be abandoned later.

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