Who is calling, please? Legislators look to ban anonymous SIM cards

10-02-2005

This week we look at a plan to ban anonymous, prepaid mobile phone cards, which some Czech legislators say help organised criminal gangs avoid police detection.

Some Czech lawmakers are calling for a ban on anonymous pre-paid mobile phone numbers, a move that could discourage some customers from buying service from the three wireless operators: Eurotel, T-Mobile, and Oskar Mobil.

A vast majority of the estimated 10.6 million mobile phone numbers active in the Czech Republic — over 70 percent —work with pre-paid cards. The number, in fact, exceeds the country's population of 10.2 million because some people use more than two or more phone numbers at the same time.

At the end of last year, there were nearly 106 mobile phones per 100 people. Sector analysts say that a lot of Czechs do not own a mobile phone, while some 15 to 20 percent of users have two ore more.

Currently, operators need not register the buyers of pre-paid cards, which allow holders of such numbers to remain completely anonymous. The Czech legislators think that is aiding criminal gangs operating here and want all users to be registered, so that police may more easily monitor their activities by tracing phone calls.

Radek Turek, an MP for the ruling Social Democrats, says the legislation would "prevent people from buying packages of SIM cards" from the corner shop or tobacconists; if enacted, the measure would require cellular operators to register the identity and phone numbers of all their customers. Mr Turek, a member of the lower house of Parliament's defence and security committee, says the government would be asked to craft a draft law introducing such a ban by mid-June.

Petr Sindler, spokesman for Oskar Mobil, the third-largest operator, told the paper Mlada fronta Dnes, "If MPs managed to push this through, we might as well close the Czech telecommunication market, considering the share of anonymous clients".

Police President Jiri Kolar has said he approves of the proposal. But the Interior Minister, Frantisek Bublan, has expressed concerns about the measure as it would impinge on people's freedom, and the IT Minister, Vladimir Mlynar, has come out against it, arguing that it would obligatory registration would not ensure that the purchase of such a card was the one making calls from it.

Germany, Britain, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland are among the countries that have enacted bans on anonymous prepaid mobile phone cards.

10-02-2005