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MPs now demand say in approval of thin-SIM technology

Moyale MP Roba Duba: This project should not be launched until the board and ourselves approve it. PHOTO | FILE
Moyale MP Roba Duba: This project should not be launched until the board and ourselves approve it. PHOTO | FILE 

Parliament has demanded to have a say in the approval of the proposed thin-SIM card technology, which telecommunications company Safaricom says poses security risks to mobile phone users.

The demand could delay Equity Bank’s intended launch of its mobile banking and telecommunication services, whose success is to a large extent pegged on the use of the paper-thin SIM card that functions by riding on the primary SIM of a mobile phone’s subscriber.

The National Assembly’s Energy and Information Technology Committee on Tuesday demanded that the sector regulator should involve it in the decision to either accept or reject use of the thin-SIM technology.

“I direct that this project should not be launched until the board and ourselves approve it,” said Moyale MP Roba Duba during a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Even though the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is the government regulator with legal powers to license telecommunication companies, Parliament has an oversight role that it could use to influence decisions.

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Equity Bank was recently awarded a licence by CA to offer banking and telecommunications services as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).

Safaricom has since been locked in a dispute with Equity over claims that the thin SIM, which is overlaid on the ordinary SIM, could intercept communication, SMSes, PINs and mobile banking services of subscribers.

Communications Authority chairman Ngene Gituku said the regulatory board has not yet discussed the viability of use of the controversial thin SIM cards.

“The director general has not brought up this matter (of the thin-SIM technology). We understand it was still in the technical stage. It will only come to us when they have finalised everything,” said Mr Gituku.

Safaricom has asked CA and the Central Bank of Kenya, which regulates the mobile and banking sectors, to stop the roll-out of the thin-SIM technology until an independent test is conducted on its security.

Communications Authority director general Francis Wangusi said an independent international firm, to be chosen from a list of eight companies recommended by GSMA, will conduct the security test of the thin SIM card during the first year of Equity’s roll-out.

“This will help us come up with regulatory policies that will guide us in licensing other thin-SIM players in the industry,” said Mr Wangusi.

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