Airtel apologises to Godfrey Miyanda over SIM registering

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Airtel Zambia has apologised to Zambia’s opposition leader, Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda, for registering his SIM card without his knowledge.

The company said it is true that Miyanda did not register his SIM card with the operator and that the text messages sent to him confirming his registration were sent in error.

“We wish to confirm that his SIM card is accordingly not registered. We sincerely apologise for the embarrassment this circumstance has caused him,” said Lisa Mulozi, acting head of corporate communications and government relations in a statement.

In his letter to Airtel (January 19), Miyanda threatened to take unspecified actions against the operator if it failed to furnish him with the SIM card registration form that he signed for his SIM card to be registered.

Miyanda, the anti-SIM card registration campaigner in Zambia denied ever registering his Airtel SIM card. But he revealed that Airtel had sent him two text messages informing him that he had successfully registered his SIM card and that all he needed was for him to dial *538# to confirm the registration.

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) has set January 31, 2014 as a deadline for SIM card registration exercise. But Miyanda has refused to register all his SIM cards with different networks claiming the exercise was illegal.

A statement released on Monday evening, signed by Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda, read:

This statement follows earlier ones on SIM card registration. Opposing views in support of registration have been considered though not reproduced. One internet blogger using the pseudonym ‘Cat Power’ (Lusaka Times) posted “Now let General Miyanda be the only subscriber who isn’t registered in the country and see how it benefits him as the only unregistered user, silly isn’t it?” I am NOT doing this for myself but for others who are yet to experience the brutality of African despots. I have been hunted like an animal for more than thirty years, so they have all my details. What is silly is for Zambians to naively be vigorously agitating for the so-called new constitution WHICH IS NOT YET LAW but refusing to protect and defend the existing one which is being butchered left, right and centre!

THE GRIEVANCE

The major complaint is the mishandling of private and personal information as well as deactivation of unregistered SIM cards by attaching registration as a condition precedent to the enjoyment of fundamental rights and liberties enshrined in Part 111 of the Constitution. By deactivating SIM unregistered cards, the Government is arbitrarily abridging the said guaranteed rights.

There is a serious erosion of citizens’ rights under the SIM card exercise which must NOT be glossed over; Part III of the Constitution covers this. I contend that SIM deactivation is in breach of Articles 11 and 20 and other laws. Article 20 is particularly apt, when it declares regarding protection of freedom of expression, that “20 (1) Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to impart and communicate ideas and information without interference, whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons, and freedom from interference with his correspondence”. There is a good reason why certain rights are embedded in Part III; it is so they are not tampered with by the State unless the due process of the law is followed. The blocking of the Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog without due process is one such serious breach.

THE ZICTA MANDATE

The ZICTA mandate is derived from Section 64 of the ICT Act 15 of 2009 via the elusive S.I. 65 of 2011, which contains the Regulations for the Registration of Electronic Communications Apparatus, couched in the following terms:

“IN EXERCISE of the powers contained in section sixty-four of the Information and Communications Act 2009, and in consultation with the Authority, the following Regulations are hereby made ….” then follow the Regulations.

Section 64 of the ICT Act 15 of 2009, reads in part as follows:

“64(1) The Authority shall be responsible for the establishment and publication of technical standards relating to all electronic communications equipment intended to be used in Zambia; (2) In establishing the standards referred to under subsection (1), the authority shall (a) seek submissions from the public, in particular those persons likely to be most affected by the publication of the standards…”.

I know that there have been NO such submissions by or calls for submissions from the public. ZICTA claims, inter alia, that SIM registration will help in combating crime and retrieving of lost phones! There are other agencies to combat crime and a plethora of legislation covering security and other crimes. The said laws include the following:

a. The Penal Code.
b. The State Security Act.
c. The Preservation of Public Security Act.
d. The Public Order Act.
e. The National Registration Act, which really provides for the registration of all persons, and
f. The Zambia Security Intelligence Service Act.

The ZICTA legislation is surplusage.

Today the mandate for the registration and custody of information about citizens is the preserve of the Ministry of Home Affairs. ZICTA should be primarily concerned with service delivery and not usurp powers under the NRC Act. As far as I can ascertain our Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) are foreign-owned. What is the justification for ZICTA to include the Voter’s card as one of the documents for registration of SIM cards as contained in the ZICTA Registration and Business Rules? Why was ECZ not consulted?
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If indeed there is need to register SIM cards this should be under the Home Affairs Ministry. Currently our personal records are NOT just with the foreign MTN, Airtel and ZAMTEL (which was owned by Libya) but may be with other foreign governments. Detailed particulars should be only with the National Registration Department, presumably not compromised with or linked to foreign security agencies. ZICTA has delegated this function to the MSPs to create, maintain and keep in their custody. By delegating the registration and custody of citizens’ private information (including their physical addresses) ZICTA is itself committing a serious breach of security bordering on criminality by the very institution that wishes to punish us by deactivation so that we cannot use our communications gadgets in order to “impart and communicate” ideas to the general public or to any person without interference!

Although this is a public statement, it is equally copied to the Government (through the Minister and ZICTA). I implore the Government to suspend the implementation of this programme and open dialogue to avoid costly litigation.

By Edith Mwale, Lusaka, Zambia

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