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UCC wins SIM card registration case

Monday, 2nd September 2013
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has won a court case in which activists led by the Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-Uganda) and the Legal Brains Trust had dragged the Commission over the national SIM card registration exercise, whose August 31, 2013 deadline is a couple of days away.  

The applicants had filed an interim application to stop deactivation of unregistered Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards on the grounds that the exercise was marred by inconsistencies and anomalies, which they wanted UCC to address before the switch-off. A SIM card is a valuable memory card, which stores all the information on one¡¯s phone such as pictures, videos, and contact numbers.

Dismissing, the petition this afternoon, High Court judge Yasin Nyanzi said the case had no merit. In his ruling, Justice Nyanzi noted that UCC and the service providers had the mandate to register SIM cards. He also faulted the applicant (s) for failing to provide statistical evidence of the would-be aggrieved people should their SIM cards be de-activated.

Noting that the number of registered SIM card owners (92% as of today) had increased compared to 70% as of March 2013 (when the petition was first heard), Justice Nyanzi said the petitioners had failed to prove how the status quo would be maintained should Court accept their petition. "Any way, there are criminals and like-minded people who would not like to register their SIM cards irrespective of the circumstances,¡± he said.

The exercise is governed by the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010. According to UCC, at least 8% of the estimated 17 million mobile phone subscribers have not yet registered their SIM cards.

The one-year long exercise, which started on March 1, 2013, was extended by six-months to allow the service providers verify all the subscribers¡¯ data before the unregistered SIM cards could be de-activated. 

SIM card registration in Uganda is part of the regional exercise. Under the umbrella body called the East Africa Communications Organisation (EACO), the in East Africa region set mid 2012 as the deadline to have all existing SIM cards registered. The exercise has been completed in Rwanda, and is in advanced stages in the other East African countries. 

Commenting immediately after the ruling, UCC Executive Director Mr Godfrey Mutabazi said he was not surprised by the outcome of the petition since UCC was acting within the ambit of the law. "This is a closed chapter. Let¡¯s finalise the registration of SIM cards this month. I wish to reiterate the Commission¡¯s stand that the decision to switch off unregistered SIM cards on August 31, 2013 is final.¡±

Mr Mutabazi, however, appealed to those who have not yet registered their SIM cards to do so in the remaining two days. "The window is still open. Use this chance to register your SIM cards,¡± he said.