The majority of the approximately 165m mobile SIM cards that enter the SA market every year may be non-compliant with the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (Rica).

Business Day reports representatives of major SIM card industry service providers say Rica workarounds by agents, sellers and customers are common and incentivised by the industry, including mobile operators.

One whistleblower said: ‘The (SIM) distributors get a fee for every SIM card activated, and ongoing revenue for airtime loaded for the lifecycle of those cards.’

Public Interest SA chair Tebogo Khaas told ITWeb the organisation sees direct links between unregistered SIM cards and ‘flourishing illicit economies, organised crime, money laundering, kidnappings, fraud, car hijackings and murder’.

The mobile operators claim that this is a misunderstanding of the law and that non-Rica’ed SIM cards ‘simply do not exist’.

However Business Day bought 10 prepaid SIMs covering the major mobile network operators from different shops, and in seven cases no attempt was made to confirm identities or Rica the SIMs.

Ministry of Justice & Correctional Services spokesman Chrispin Phiri said ‘interdepartmental discussions are under way’.

The GSMA, a global industry body representing the interests of mobile network operators, says there were 112.7m active cellular mobile connections in SA at the start of 2023.

This reflects the growing number of devices requiring them and number of consumers who regularly change SIMs to take up offers and, allegedly, avoid creditors.

An industry insider told Business Day the mobile network operators were likely to welcome a government audit.

‘There would be consequences, yes, but something has to give ... While we do our own audits, with millions of customers and thousands being loaded every day, the fact is the operators can’t keep up.’

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