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Uganda Telecoms to Block Unverified Sim Cards, Cite Biometric Mismatch with National IDs

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Telecommunication companies in Uganda have announced that as of November 12, unverified sim cards will be deactivated, rendering customers unable to use call and related services.

At a joint press briefing held at the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) headquarters in Bugoloobi, Denis Kakonge, Airtel Uganda’s director for legal and regulatory services, clarified that the re-verification mandate applies solely to customers who have received specific messages from the telecom companies, indicating the necessity for re-verification.

Kakonge highlighted that the re-verification is targeted at customers who initially registered their sim cards by submitting personal details, including photos and national ID copies to the telecom companies without physically appearing for registration. This process, instituted around 2018, has led to mismatches in the recorded details.

To rectify this, affected customers are required to physically appear at the data center for the capturing and matching of their fingerprints, photos, and original national IDs.

Officials from the telecom companies emphasized the legal requirement for original copies of the national ID, barring the use of duplicate copies or National Identification Numbers (NINs) in the re-verification process.

Julius Mboize, MTN Uganda’s senior manager in charge of regulatory services, specified that re-verification demands the physical presence of each sim card owner, ensuring their personal identification.

Airtel Uganda’s Public Relations Manager, David Birungi, mentioned that the company is incentivizing customers with data bundles and airtime for completing the re-verification process between the current date and the impending deadline.

UCC’s head of legal affairs, Abdul Salam Waiswa, underscored that the re-verification initiative was prompted by the Regulation of Interception of Communications Regulations 2023, enacted earlier this year. Waiswa clarified that the exercise targets customers whose previous verifications did not align with the new regulations, estimating this number to be less than 1% of the total mobile phone subscriptions in Uganda, which stands at 34.3 million.

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Waiswa emphasized that the new regulation prohibits individuals from having more than 10 sim cards registered on a single national ID. He assured customers that funds in mobile money accounts will remain secure even if the numbers are blocked, and advised affected individuals to contact their respective telecom companies for guidance on redeeming their money.

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