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Fighting terrorism with biometric verification of mobile prepaid customers



We are living in a scary world

As a European living in the U.S., I was affected like many others by the tragic events of the last few years. Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, London, Manchester, Istanbul, Stockholm and Barcelona recently … are cities that resonated fond and loving memories with so many families, friends, customers and colleagues. The images that I have cherished from these cities will never be the same.  So when our industry can help make the world a safer and more peaceful place, I could only applaud even if it may encroach a little on our privacy.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, a New York Times report suggests that terrorists used “burner” phones, prepaid disposable mobile phones, to coordinate their actions. This is not a new or innovative tactic. Drug dealers, street prostitutes and other criminal groups regularly use these devices for communication: they are cheap, plentiful and difficult to link to a real identity. Their value lies in real-time communication, via text or voice call. Dramas of international dimension force governments all over the world to address the problem of communication techniques. 

Biometric validation 1.pngLifting the anonymity of prepaid calling cards

As a tool to counter terrorism and support law enforcement efforts, mandatory registration of prepaid SIM cards is a policy that a number of governments have adopted in recent years. Primarily, it requires consumers to provide proof of identity in order to activate a prepaid mobile SIM card. Prepaid SIM registration is currently mandated in around 90 countries but there is no consistent approach in how the policy is developed or implemented across these countries. In order to prevent criminals from avoiding registration, different techniques have been adopted.

For example, since July 1st, 2017 anyone who wishes to purchase a prepaid card must present their ID in Germany. The modification of §111 of the German Telecommunication Act – a series of counter-terrorism measures adopted by the German parliament – then came into effect. According to this law, anyone who wishes to purchase a prepaid phone card must present their ID and get registered.

Besides physical registration and identification in stores or post offices, video identification is also a strategy for mobile providers. For the large number of prepaid cards sold at gas stations, supermarkets and online stores in particular, it is the easiest and most flexible solution. The card is activated as soon as user ID has been verified through video chat and data has been transferred to the mobile provider. There are no additional costs for the user.

More sophisticated, in my view, Peruvian telecoms regulator Osiptel announced in June 2015 that fingerprint data should be gathered from all customers purchasing prepaid mobile phones. The new rule stated that prepaid lines could only be activated once the user's fingerprint matched that on record at the country's national ID register; authorized distributors were required as a result to progressively implement fingerprint ID systems until it became mandatory in all points of sale from 1st January 2017. 

Biometric validation 2.png

Introducing biometric data in the SIM activation process

By lifting the anonymity of prepaid calling cards, intelligence agencies and safety services will be able to quickly identify users of prepaid calling cards. But communication service providers (CSPs) are faced with a gigantic number of activations as prepaid card users represent 47% of the entire market.

 With HPE Dynamic SIM Provisioning (HPE DSP), CSPs can integrate biometrical verification during the SIM activation process by identifying the customer through a central fingerprint ID system. HPE DSP provides real-time subscriber authentication dBuring initial detection and delivers an initial subscriber profile to the Visitor Location Register (VLR) during the provisioning process.  Also, it checks the device IMEI with the Central Equipment Identification Register and determine if the device is stolen. The ID of the subscriber itself is driven by the need of the government to know who is making calls on mobile phone even on prepaid phones for better monitoring of gangs and terrorists. HPE DSP also checks if the device is stolen and can be used to restrict the number of prepaid mobile lines assigned to any individual subscriber.

What’s next?

While I can understand that opponents of this verification could see a “big brother” threat, I can also see advantages for the consumer.

Because the identity of the person has been verified through a ‘know your customer’ process such as biometric verification, and the mobile device/SIM can be attributed to the individual, it is possible to use this information for digital authentication and access a wide variety of different services in the knowledge that the person is who they say they are. Once individuals register their SIM card, they can use their mobile phone to log-in and access other value added services.

And if this is not going to remove the bad guys from our streets or our phones, it could push them away from the digital age that they exploit so well.

Learn more about how HPE Dynamic SIM Provisioning can decrease the cost of SIM card ownership by downloading the solution brief Optimizing SIM Cost and watch the video clip


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About the Author


Success-oriented marketing professional with domestic and international experience conveying Value Added Services and IT Services for Communications Service providers’ technologies and markets worldwide, including Cloud Services, Voice and Intelligent Network Services, Network Function Virtualization, Enterprise Mobility, Big Data and Security markets, to achieve leading positions in the cloud, communications and IT service provider segment (direct and indirect).

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