Anyone who purchased a mobile phone SIM card without providing appropriate ID can expect to see those phone numbers terminated, while any retailer selling SIM cards without collecting identification documents faces arrest, the government announced yesterday.
“Telecom operators must tell [existing] customers, including foreigners, that they must complete ID documents within three months or their numbers will be automatically deleted,” Chhay Sinarith, National Police deputy chief, said yesterday at a press conference held jointly with Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications Director-General Mao Chakyra.
He added that 70 per cent of the 20 million or so SIM cards in use in Cambodia, where many residents own more than one, have no ID attached to them, meaning as many as 14 million phone numbers could be discontinued.
For retailers, who have been legally bound to record ID details when selling cards since 2012, there will be no grace period.
The crackdown, which begins today, will see any retailer found selling a SIM card without forwarding ID details to the government temporarily detained and “educated” or formally arrested.
The tough new measures were necessary to combat terrorists, drug traffickers, kidnappers, extortionists and other criminals who take advantage of the anonymity provided by SIM cards purchased without identification, according to Sinarith.
“We have seen terrorists detonate bombs in hotels using mobile devices,” he said. “When we investigated a bomb that went off in front of the office of the Council of Ministers, we found the perpetrators had used 120 mobile numbers of which 101 had no ID attached to them, whilst another 10 used fake IDs.”
However, human rights defenders are already voicing concerns that the crackdown on SIM cards is part of a wider chipping away at civil liberties.
“When the Ministry of Interior announced the introduction of surveillance equipment on all of Cambodia’s internet service providers and cell networks in December 2014, the spokesman stated that the motivation was to ‘control people’ using mobile services,” said Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“In light of the recent arrests of ordinary people and opposition figures for Facebook posts, this apparently innocuous regulation can be seen as a real threat to freedom of expression in Cambodia.”
Sopheap also questioned the speed with which the new measures are being introduced.
“The likelihood is that most Cambodians have no idea about this new requirement,” she said.
“This may unfairly deprive huge numbers of people of their phone numbers, especially with a registration deadline as short as three months.”
Anyone who has a SIM card bought without providing ID can avoid losing the number by registering it with photo ID at a phone company outlet or police station, Sinarith said.