Phone and SIM card change planned for South Africa

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has proposed tying the biometric data of South Africans to their SIM cards in a move to clamp down on fraudulent activity.

In practice, this means that fingerprint mapping, facial recognition, retina scans and biometric data could all be tied to a person’s SIM card – and by extension their phone number.

This has led to concerns in South Africa about increased surveillance and additional avenues for identity theft – although this almost certainly won’t be the case says Gur Geva,  chief executive of biometric company iiDENTIFii.

“Because biometric technology only started making its way into the mainstream relatively recently, consumers are still unsure of what the technology entails and how it may be used. This, naturally, leads to some misconceptions and fears.

“The reality is that opt-in biometrics are the most secure way to identify someone – and keep their information and identity safe from misuse – and these differ a great deal from biometrics used for surveillance.”

A new type of biometrics 

Geva said that Icasa’s proposal, and the type of biometrics currently becoming more mainstream, is called ‘remote biometric onboarding’.

“It’s opt-in verification and account authentication as opposed to surveillance. Remote biometric onboarding links a person’s biometric data, whether their face or fingerprint, to their account so that they, and only they, can access the account safely and securely,” Geva said.

From a privacy perspective, it’s not that different from current identification methods, he said.

“When someone has a copy of your ID, they already have your biometric data – an image of your face. How biometric data is managed by mobile operators would still be subject to strict privacy laws laid out in the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines.”

He added that the average person has around 80 passwords. Passwords they forget, passwords that are compromised, and passwords that don’t transfer between devices.

“Biometrics, on the other hand, provide a seamless experience where onboarding no longer requires account details, an ID book, fingerprints, and more.

“Now, you can add your ID number, hold your phone up to your face for liveness detection, and link your SIM. And yet, it’s safer, because no one except you will be able to perform a SIM swap or take out an additional line without this direct biometric link.”

This safety and convenience mean the identification method will become much more mainstream, and soon, he said.

Two-factor authentication could be replaced by proof of liveness and a fingerprint, for example, and even social media could become more secure.

“Currently, only celebrity social media accounts get verified, and even then, not biometrically. But everyone should have the ability to show that their account is truly theirs. The amount of bot accounts is material– as the due diligence on Elon Musk’s Twitter deal proved.

“These fake accounts can be used to push the same message, thousands at a time, regardless of the accuracy of the message. That could be prevented,”

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Phone and SIM card change planned for South Africa