• Monday, June 24, 2024
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FG plans 10-finger biometric capture for new telecom subscribers

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New mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria would have to undergo a 10-finger biometric capture and SIM card registration at authorised dealerships.

According to the plan which was disclosed by different sources, the telcos had only captured two fingerprints in the last biometric capture exercise. But the exercise is already being harmonised with the BVN data.

In August, the federal government had announced plans to replace the issuance of plastic national identity cards with digital forms of identification. The decision was contained in the report of the Citizen Data Management and Harmonisation Committee submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The directive is for new customers. Anyone who has a BVN already has 10-finger biometrics. So, there’s no need to repeat it. We do not have to repeat KYC for existing customers,” Emeke Okpara, director, corporate communications and CSR, Airtel Nigeria.

Olusola Teniola, President of Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON) also confirmed the development and said it is meant to help the government capture the full information of individuals for accuracy.

“I believe we are at a situation in our adoption of technology where precise information, accurate data, and collation of the data needs to be robust enough so that the system that we are now utilising to identify individuals can verify with all certainty that information captured represents an individual,” Teniola told BusinessDay.

Teniola says other ECOWAS countries are already using the digital capture system. Among its benefits is enhancing the process of identifying citizens of the region.

“The possibility of identifying the individual is increased by a magnitude of at least 20 times because there is more information that will certainly verify the identity of the individual when you capture all ten fingerprints,” Teniola said. “However you know there are those that unfortunately have been physically challenged. They don’t have the full ten fingers then the system has to be adapted to capture the exceptions and those exceptions need to make sure there is additional information to verify that particular individual.”

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had in 2011 budgeted 6.1 billion Naira to conduct biometric registration on SIM (subscriber identification module) cards in six geopolitical zones of the country in addition to Lagos.

The project dragged on for several months and ended with the NCC using a mobile operator biometric SIM card database. Under the new biometric SIM registration system, every Nigerian mobile phone user is required to provide their biometrics for authentication.

Although the project was successful under telcos, it cost a lot of money to execute as a source in MTN told BusinessDay. The NCC is yet to make the guideline public, but telcos who said they have received the guideline told BusinessDay there is nothing to worry about.

If the telcos were to be asked to carry out the exercise all over again would be a bigger challenge. First, the number of mobile subscribers has surged from what it was 9 years ago. As of June 2020, Nigeria has over 196 million mobile subscribers which are about three times what it used to be in 2011. MTN the largest telcos control 40.17 percent representing 78.7 million subscribers. In essence, the telco would be looking to double the cost it bore from the previous exercise. In the previous exercise, MTN reportedly hired an additional 10,000 ad-hoc staff.

Teniola said the new exercise should not be a recreation of the telco database rather an update because it would reduce the cost for operators. He sees the telcos resisting a full process because there are more subscribers now that there were previously.

“This is not a small exercise. I would really recommend for logistics, credibility and actually being able to achieve the task that it should just be an update because remember the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy recently stated that there are no longer any SIM cards that are no longer unregistered on the network. So if that is the case, it should be an update and not a recreation of the records. An update is not so expensive. A recreation of the database would be frowned upon because of not only the cost associated with that exercise it is going to be a very long-drawn-out process because we know that it took a while to capture the initial SIM registration database and to go through the exercise again is not something we would like to entertain,” Teniola said.