Government has directed for an investigation on telecom companies in Uganda regarding allegations that some unregistered simcards are being used by criminal elements to perpetrate crime.
This follows a Cabinet decision made during a Cabinet sitting at State House Entebbe on Monday, chaired by President Museveni which among others discussed concerns raised by security agencies on the cyber regulation loopholes that have resulted into insecurity.
In the Cabinet meeting, security officials revealed that in the course of a criminal investigation, some Airtel simcards were discovered to have been used to commit crimes, but on scrutinizing them, they were not registered in anybody’s names.
The Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Frank Tumwebaze told journalists on Tuesday that Cabinet subsequently directed his Ministry to instruct UCC to probe into how the Airtel telephone numbers were forged or if there are similar cases with other telcos.
“As Cabinet, we noted with great concern reports of illegal simcarsds used by criminals. We are investigating numbers provided by the security, that were used by criminals and we want to know whether the telcos are being negligent,” Minister Tumwebaze said at a press briefing at Uganda Media Centre.
“Should we find that telecom companies registered cards with wrong information, we shall take a firm penalty,” the Minister assured.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) which is the regulator of the telecom sector has been given a period of two weeks to report its findings.
“The numbers we have seen do not hold the identification of anybody yet they are active. It is possible that a simcard can wrongfully be used by someone but even in that case, we would be able to see the details of the authentic owner,” Tumwebaze said.
He however added; “We have to be sure that the culpability is on the part of the telco. Because it could be on the part of the users”.
Asked whether Airtel is the only service provider implicated, the Minister said the problem cuts across.
He stressed that government is not ready to compromise on cyber security and that for any telecom company found to be sleeping on the job risks being fined or having its license revoked.
The Minister said that such loopholes were among the many problems that the mass simcard registration and verification exercise conducted last year was meant to address.
“This is what we were trying to prevent. You shouldn’t bash government for trying to protect its citizens. All we are saying is - all communications must be secure. Nobody should have an unregistered simcard,” he noted.
He said that government is taking measures to beef up its capacity to counter cyber threats.
Only weeks ago, news reports emerged that about 8 Members of Parliament had been scammed by conmen who hacked their phones and defrauded people of money.
The hackers are said to have duplicated the MPs’ MTN sim-cards and solicited money from their unsuspecting friends and family members while disguising themselves as the simcards owners.