Millions of people in many parts of the world buy prepaid SIM cards to purchase mobile telephony and data services on a pay-as-you-go basis, as opposed to a subscription and contract. The vast majority of users are attracted to this model of service for its low cost, flexibility, and convenience. But the potential anonymity afforded by the prepaid model also attracts people who aim to use mobile phones to commit fraud, crime, or even terrorism. For this reason, many governments impose a mandatory registration for SIM card purchasers. It is a common practice on just about every continent except North America. A subset of these countries performs a biometric search as part of their registration process.
Biometrics are becoming increasingly used as a “know your customer” tool for keeping fraudsters out of the customer base, particularly for banks, telecom, and other businesses that rely on granting some level of trust to the customer. A biometric search enables a service provider to detect whether an applicant is attempting to conceal their real identity.
Cell phones can be used by fraudsters, criminals, and terrorists to commit illegal acts, and so it is useful for law enforcement to prevent people from doing so anonymously without any way to determine the identity of the user. Registration upon purchase of prepaid SIM cards helps prevent someone from using a mobile device to commit crime anonymously because the user can be identified. Performing a biometric search as part of the registration process helps prevent people from intentionally registering false identity information that would be useless in investigation of a crime. In this way, biometric search can also serve as a deterrent to people aiming to register false identity information for the specific purpose of using their phone to commit crime.
In some cases, registration of SIM cards is seen as an opportunity to use a phone as a trusted identity token. With a trusted registration enhanced by biometric search, a phone number can be associated with that registration and used to confirm identity and even make purchases or receive benefits. In regions where penetration of mobile phones outpaces that of credit cards and identity documents, it’s a powerful proposition.
In countries where crime and terrorism are growing, governments are under increased pressure to address the problem head on with whatever tools they have. Making use of biometric data to prevent anonymous use of mobile devices to commit criminal acts is one such tool. Biometric search is particularly challenging when search is attempted against records of poor quality. To be effective often requires that they mandate operators to upgrade an existing biometric capture solution to meet international biometric standards. But where budgets are tight, short cuts are taken, and funds are spent on a system that ultimately does not address the task at hand.
Spoofing is also a challenge in SIM card registration, where identity information and biometrics are falsified during the enrollment process; e.g. capture of biometric facial image using videos or photographs instead of a live image. It’s often challenging to not only to implement robust spoof detection but also to enforce best practices during enrollment.
Some governments mandate mobile operators not only to capture biometrics but also demonstrate that the quality of captured biometrics follow international standards. They further mandate that mobile operators provide a sufficiently usable biometric in terms of quality so that they are useful for biometric search against criminal or terrorist watch lists as part of a background checks.
As in any biometric project the solution needs to follow best practices in biometric capture, educate operators well how to use biometric capture solutions, make optimal use of technology to increase the overall system performance. It is a joint effort between government regulatory bodies, operators, local system integrator and biometric software and hardware vendors with the final goal of fighting crime and terrorism. The overall benefit of this system and best practices is that the government will receive better biometric quality and the operator will increase eventually the ROI due to correct detection of fraudulent enrollment attempts.