All unregistered SIM cards in Cambodia will be deactivated by November 1, giving nearly 2 million phone users less than a month to meet rules the government claims are aimed at reducing criminal activity and protecting national security.
Service providers are required to alert those with unregistered SIM cards “seven times within seven days,” according to a statement signed by Mao Chakrya, director of the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia. If no action is taken, it adds, “there must be a full suspension” by November 1.
The guidelines were issued following a meeting last month between the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the country’s mobile telephone service operators.
The crackdown—if enforced—will affect about 10 percent of Cambodia’s SIM cards, or nearly 2 million phone users, said Im Vutha, a spokesman for the telecom regulator.
The latest action follows a previous attempt to crack down on unregistered users earlier this year, though it harkens back to a largely unenforced 2012 Ministry of Interior decree banning new sales of unregistered SIMs.
In January, Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith declared unregistered SIM cards a major threat to national security and said they were a favored tool of terrorists, kidnappers and drug runners.
Mr. Vutha, contacted on Tuesday, could not give details on specific criminal cases involving unregistered SIMs or say how many there had been.
“There have been a few cases, not a large number, where we’re trying to track down a criminal,” he said. “We check their telephone number, but it’s without an identity, so we cannot ascertain its owner.”
Mr. Sinarith said pressure from abroad to clamp down on cross-border crime has also added momentum to the effort.
“[I]t comes from the UNODC’s crime office and from other large countries,” he said, referring to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Thailand and Singapore were in the midst of similar efforts, and are also “worried about unregistered users,” he said.
Cellcard, one of Cambodia’s biggest providers, on Tuesday featured a notice on its website stating its support for the “Royal Government of Cambodia in its initiative to enforce SIM registration for the purpose of national security and consumer protection.”
It said it was rolling out a few easy ways for users to check their registration or complete the process if necessary.
Cambodia’s effort comes as the U.S. has introduced a similar measure in Congress, and a year after China began cracking down on unregistered SIM cards.
The push comes months after the passage of a telecommunications law condemned by local rights group Licadho for permitting nearly unchecked government surveillance over all forms of electronic communication.