Belgium has recently implemented new rules requiring SIM card registration, after the European Commission (EC) invited all Member States in 2012 to provide evidence of the actual or potential impact of banning anonymous pre-paid SIM cards or ‘burner’ means of communication, in an attempt to renew its counterterrorism measures.

Mobile ID verification helps mitigate unintended negative impact of mandatory SIM card registration in the EU

The recent wave of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Turkey have accelerated the implementation of laws and rules that enforce the registration of pre-paid SIM cards across the Old Continent. Other countries such as Germany are toughening up their current regulation on this matter, requesting carriers and retailers to integrate identity verification within their regular acquisition practices.

Belgium will be joining other Member States such as Spain, Italy, France or Greece, that now require all SIM-card owners to be identified, and register them in a special list. Belgian authorities have ruled that from now on, all SIM cards must be linked to the owner’s national registration number – contained within the electronic code of their passport. "This is necessary to limit opportunities of terrorist organizations to carry out covert communication," explained a Belgian Government official back in March, when the new law was made public.

Many European countries are joining forces to combat terrorism in the Eurozone, with Greece, France, and Spain on the front foot. Back to 2009, the Greek government adopted legislation on the identification of users of mobile telephony equipment and services. To avoid the proliferation of forged identities, subscribers not providing correct details are subject to criminal liability. After July 2010 any anonymous SIM cards were blocked in the Greek market. A similar registration requirement for mobile prepaid users was implemented in Spain: all those pre-paid customers that had not been registered as of November 2009, were temporarily disconnected, although they can still be re-connected in case they register by May 2010.

Using Mobile ID Verification to turn new mandatory SIM card registration in your favour

New regulation tends to add pressure to players competing in a highly mature market, and the implementation of severe controls and sanctions for those companies selling anonymous pre-paid SIM cards has been wearily received by different stakeholders in the telecommunications industry.

On one hand, there is a portion of voices in the industry stressing the unintended negative impact of the newly enforced rules on the access to communications services when mobile users’ SIM cards are deactivated (sometimes without warning) due to failure to register by a required deadline. As highlighted in GSMA White Paper The Mandatory Registration of SIM Card Users, such failure may be caused by factors that escape from users’ control, for example the fact that they live far from a registration centre, lack any formal identity documents, or were not made aware of the need to register and the relevant deadline. Is in these particular cases where mobile identity verification solutions such as Mobile Verify can play a pivotal role as it eliminates the barriers to attesting the identity of the SIM card’s owner straight away, authenticating the ID document provided for identity verification in real time.

On the other hand, industry visionaries lean towards a more positive approach and highlight the potential benefits that the new registration policy might bring, particularly emphasising the greater consumer access to e-Government services (as registered users can verify their identity and log in to such services using their mobile device); increased ease for users to keep their mobile number when switching to another network operator; and enhanced support for ongoing governments’ financial inclusion agendas.

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