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South Africa considers requiring citizens to turn over biometric data to own a phone

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Governments of several nations around the world have considered using biometric data during SIM card registrations as a “fraud deterrent.” The proposals have always faced pushback for being a clear challenge to privacy.

Biometric data or identifiers include scans of a fingerprint, palm, retina, or the entire face of the user. South Africa has become the latest nation to consider SIM laws that make this data a mobile phone registration requirement.

Identity and other thieves can still hack phones with current security measures. Biometric data makes it more difficult because a criminal would need biometric proof that they own a phone and have the right to unlock it.

Acquiring body scans illegally is a difficult process. Governments hope that the extensive time and financial effort required to copy or mimic the biometrics of a specific person might deter criminals from hacking phones.

They also hope it might deter criminals from using their own phones for criminal activities since biometrics data creates a solid link between them and their phones that investigators can trace from a phone used in a crime back to the owner.

The telephone regulator for South Africa believes that all SIM card records should have biometric identifiers. For now, the data would only be used for basic authentication of ownership and monitoring of SIM swaps.

A timeline for making this type of change doesn’t yet exist because this is merely a recommendation by the regulator to the government.

However, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre found that this type of system could help prevent fraud performed with phones owned by people who swap their SIM cards to make identification harder. This type of crime has increased by 91% from November 2020 to November 2021.

The use of biometric data during phone SIM card registrations is a hot-button topic in many areas of the world because of concerns about privacy and data protection.

Some countries don’t have laws to protect people who deal with the theft of their biometric data. Many countries that already have SIM laws also have more authoritarian regimes, such as China, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

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