Tanzania says may switch off 15 mln SIM cards in biometric registration 

DAR ES SALAAM, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Tanzania’s telecoms regulator said on Thursday it may switch off up to 15 million SIM cards of users who failed to register their mobile phone lines biometrically.

East Africa’s third-largest economy said it rolled out the biometric checks in a bid to tackle fraud in electronic transactions, identity theft and other forms of crime.

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) said it began to gradually shut down unregistered SIM cards in nationwide biometric checks that started on Jan. 20.

That was the deadline TCRA had set for all SIM card owners to have registered their lines biometrically.

Tanzania has an estimated 45 million active mobile phone subscribers.

Of those just over 30 million or 66.3 percent had registered biometrically by the deadline, according to official data.

Under the new registration, users’ fingerprints are captured alongside scans of their national identity cards.

For all those who failed to meet the deadline their “cards will be switched off if their owners fail to register them biometrically using national identity cards,” TCRA’s communications head, Frederick Ntobi, told Reuters

Major mobile phone operators in Tanzania include Vodacom Tanzania, a unit of South Africa’s Vodacom, Tigo Tanzania, which is part of Sweden’s Millicom, Bharti Airtel Tanzania, and Halotel, owned by Vietnam-based telecoms operator Viettel.

The fast-growing sector has been hit by tighter regulations and a price war among the operators in recent years as they battle for market share.

Mobile network operators said they were complying with the mandatory biometric registration of SIM cards. (Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)