Ministry wants to tighten identification regulations on pre-paid SIM cards

A Huawei phone.
A Huawei phone. Source: Huko Aaspõllu/ERR

Pre-paid, contract-free, unverified mobile SIM cards could be a thing of the past, if the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications gets its way. The ministry wants to ban the products, available in kiosks and other stores for a few euros, in their current guise, citing user identification issues and the fact that such cards are often used by criminals.

While the ministry has proposed amends to the Electronic Communications Act, the main piece of legislation governing the sphere, adding in the draft's explanatory memorandum that a total ban need not be the solution, instead suggesting stricter verification processes for users.

"In some countries, such as Pakistan, prepaid mobile phone SMS products are regulated so that an individual's identity has to be verified with the provider on purchase. This aims to mitigate risks involved when users cannot be identified," the ministry wrote, noting that the bulk of criminal communication makes use of such anonymous services via "burner" mobile phones.

Much of western Europe does the same, the ministry added, though exceptions to this include Finland and Sweden. Latvia, Lithuania and also the U.S. and Canada do not currently require identification verification for pre-paid SIM cards either, the ministry said.

The trifecta of standard electronic verification means used in Estonia – ID card log-in, mobile ID or the Smart ID app could fulfill this role, the ministry added.

The entire switchover would take about a year-and-a-half and cost private sector carriers around €350,000, the ministry added.

The process would also allow for the fact that pre-paid cards are generally deactivated if an allocated number is not used for more than six consecutive months, in other words services purchased before the change took effect would from, upon adoption of the draft, be six months as well.

The proposals also affect messaging app services like WhatsApp and Viber, as well as Estonian-born VOIP calling provider Skype, who would have to register as communications service providers, something they currently do not do in Estonia.

This would make them subject to the same regulations as the communications act and bring with it requirements such as mandatory connection to emergency services numbers, again not offered by these companies in Estonia.

This would also reflect the growing popularity of such services and their convergence, so far as consumer usage reasons go, with more traditional phone calling.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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