In future, you might well have to provide your biometric data to mobile service providers when obtaining a new cellphone number. The same applies when applying for a SIM swap. So sayeth the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
A new set of draft regulations from the regulator is explicit about the need for MSPs to collect user biometric data. The requirement is part of a larger set of changes to the country’s Numbering Plan Regulations from 2016. Most of these changes only really affect service providers like Vodacom or MTN. But the biometric requirement will directly impact the everyday person.
ICASA identity crisis?
The new amendment to the regulations — 6A, which governs activation, deactivation and recycling of numbers — calls for biometric data collection. Specifically, the “…licensee must ensure that it collects and link [sic] the biometric data of the subscriber to the number” upon application for a new phone number. Whoever sold you your phone contract must also make sure that up-to-date biometric data is kept on file.
This extends to SIM swaps, which seems to be the major reason for the requirement. “If a subscriber requests a SIM swap, the Licensee must ensure that the biometric data of the user requesting the SIM swap corresponds with the biometric data associated with the mobile number.”
If biometric information doesn’t match, the swap must be declined. MSPs are also only supposed to use their new collection of identifying information for user authentication. How this will be enforced is left a mystery.
Just what forms this biometric data must take is also left mysterious. The amendment defines it as the “…measurement and statistical analysis of people’s unique physical and behavioural characteristics”. Under this definition, a voice password, thumbprint, iris scan, or facial recognition could conceivably be used. Thumbprints would probably be the simplest to implement, and the easiest to spot. If someone rocks up to a SIM swap with a severed thumb, they should probably be arrested.
ICASA’s changes to the Numbering Plan Regulations are open to public comment until 11 May 2022. If you forget to have your say right away, Dear South Africa will probably email you a reminder soon.