From July 2021, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) will require Nigerians to submit their IMEI numbers to a centralized device identity registry.
In May 2021, the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy released a revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration (PDF) that requires Nigerians to submit their IMEI numbers to a centralized Equipment Identity Registry. (CEIR), also known as Device Management System (DMS). ), which the NCC would manage.
Some of the reasons given to justify the ministry’s action include reducing the market for counterfeit cellphones, discouraging cellphone theft, strengthening national security, protecting consumer interests, increasing the generation of revenue for the government, reducing the kidnapping rate, mitigating the use of crime phones and making it easier to block or trace stolen cell phones and other smart devices.
The move follows previous initiatives by the Nigerian government on digital identities.
Recall that in December 2020, the Nigerian government issued a statement requiring all Nigerians to obtain their National Identification Number (NIN). As might be expected, there was a rush as Nigerians across the country attempted to get their NINs before the end of 2020 deadline.
The directive caused a massive uproar among Nigerians because it was given in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps because of this, the deadline has been extended to February 2021. Since then, it has been moved three times, with the new deadline now being June 30, 2021.
The NCC’s IMEI policy will certainly have major implications for the whole country if implemented.
What does this mean to you?
The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a unique number used to identify a mobile phone. It is usually found inside the battery compartment of most phones, but can also be obtained by dialing * # 06 #. With an IMEI number, a phone can be tracked, but more than that, it can also be used for identity theft and even cloning a phone.
Since the news broke, there has been an understandable outcry, with IMEI and Isa Pantami all the rage on Twitter.
However, while the government requires Nigerians to share this data, they are under no obligation to do so, as your IMEI is part of the data transmitted to your network operator as soon as you make a call, use data or send an SMS. .
This information is rarely used beyond providing the details that your phone needs to operate. However, security officers can use it in the event of theft or to track terrorist activity.
A few countries, including Azerbaijan, India, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and Lebanon, already have a form or another of this database.
If a phone owner has their IMEI number, they can provide law enforcement with this information to track those phones in the event of theft.
While the reasons given by the government to justify this new policy seem genuine at first glance, Nigerians are concerned about possible ways for the government to exploit this data.
An article on The initiate details how the Saudi government uses IMEI numbers to track the whereabouts of women who have fled violent partners. Most of the doubts expressed about the use of this information for surveillance.
It has not always been used in a negative way. ITU reports that its implementation in Britain and Turkey has reduced cellphone theft while increasing the number of mobile devices legally imported to Ukraine by 95%, as well as increasing revenue from importing mobile devices.
Some of the questions to ask are whether there are sufficient safeguards in the absence of a comprehensive data protection law, according to a data protection expert. In addition, will the government be transparent about its use of this data and what happens in the event of a breach?
It should not be forgotten that with the government mandating Nigerians to link their SIM cards to the NIN, the government already has a wealth of knowledge about the activities of its citizens. Adding IMEI data to that would mean they can get real-time location data on anyone as well.
With Nigeria’s bad human rights history, Nigerians may be right to be wary of the motives behind this policy.
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