SIM card registration in Uganda: When Data management and transparency is tested

Photo credit: Infrastructure magazine

In April 2017, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered a 7 days ultimatum demanding Ugandan citizens to register their SIM cards with local service providers using their national identity cards or risk deactivation. The move by government is defended on grounds of safeguarding national security and curbing crime in Uganda.

While the decision behind the initiative may qualify to be positive, the requirements asked of citizens to register their SIM cards is problematic. SIM cards belong to individuals who purchase them for personal use. However, the deactivation and registration deadline was agreed upon by selected committee comprised of the Police Chief, UCC officials and service providers from different Telecom companies. This seemed like a transparency trap since decisions affecting the wider public were discussed by few stakeholders without the involvement of the user department i.e the citizens.

In a transparent environment, sharing information with all stakeholders is very important. Ugandan citizens deserve better transparency through sharing information and sensitization from UCC as to why SIM card registration is important, and reasons for the preference of the national ID unlike other nationally issued identifications.This will result into good cooperation from the wider public, less speculation and rumors.

Being open and honest about all aspects in a given environment is advantageous, because it positions you in such a way that you can quickly and efficiently respond to problems and controversy if it arises.

Data management theater

Uganda has other agencies like the Ministry of Internal affairs where the national passport issuance agency i.e the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration is housed. Before obtaining a Uganda passport, verification and recommendation from local leaders, birth certificates, recommendation from Ugandan passport holders etc are required.

In fact, the data requested for by the Passport issuance agency is substantial and good enough for National Identification and Registration Authority-NIRA to update their systems. Further still, we also have Face technology which issues out computerized national driving permits and without it, one can never traverse Ugandan roads. Obtaining this too requires verification from police, doctors during eye check amongst others.

Despite having citizen’s bio-data with different agencies in addition to the growth of the ICT sector in Uganda, there is a missing link regards to the data harmonization and management framework between the data based agencies. This automatically brings us to the data-management theater Uganda is facing now!

Where is the problem

Uganda does not have a harmonized data management portal where key citizen information is securely posted, kept and updated. In fact the SIM card registration ultimatum exposed a lot of data management loopholes within the government agencies.

If Uganda had just one institution responsible for data management and safety, information from the Face technology, Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration, National Social Security Fund, police etc would be easily harmonized. In any case of loopholes, citizens would be informed to update their information.

Without a harmonized system, a person can easily use a deceased’s details to register his/her SIM simply because the system tracking death and birth is independent of one issuing national IDs.

The SIM registration exercise itself has exposed the poor cooperation between some government agencies in Uganda. For instance, if UCC could only cooperate with ICT agency and others having citizen’s data, it would be simpler to access information required of citizens.

Therefore, the government could consider doing the following to improve its data management and handling practice.

  • Harmonizing all registration data bases with NIRA to avoid duplication of services and wastage of taxpayers’ money.
  • Sensitize masses on the need for registration instead of ordering ultimatums backed with justifications not easily understood by the common man.
  • Do not align the national ID to only SIM card registration. People will easily interpret it as a SIM ID.

Originally published at dataadvocacy.wordpress.com on May 19, 2017.