In an effort to prevent crimes involving mobile phones and faxes, the Ministries of Interior and Posts and Telecommunications have issued a circular requiring customers to show proper identification before buying phones and faxes.
Interior co-ministers Sar Kheng and You Hokry and Telecommunications Minister So Khun signed a inter-ministerial circular Thursday calling for phone companies to be shut down if they and their dealers do not ask buyers for family books and passports upon purchase.
Officials at the two ministries say the new measure is aimed at controlling phone ownership in order to minimize crimes that are planned and conducted with the help of modern telecommunication devices.
In the circular, the ministers said that mobile phones and faxes have been used as communication devices in criminal activities such as robbery, kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking. Keeping records on family books, passports and their workplaces would help trace criminals and also prevent economic offenses, they claim.
“About 99 percent of kidnapping cases, for example, involved mobile phones,” said Sok Phal, a senior Interior Ministry crime fighter who has a background in police intelligence work. “If we demand ID cards, we can control [the use and ownership of] mobile phones.”
A senior official at the Telecommunications Ministry said family books are being required rather than personal ID cards because it is much harder to fabricate names and addresses.
But the new requirement is not a new practice for phone companies in Cambodia. Most telecommunication firms say they already require customers to provide personal details.
Communications industry people say some customers commit economic crimes—such as running away without paying the bill after making numerous international and domestic phone calls. Having a record of customers’ identification information helps to retrieve money and trace offenders, they say.
“More than 10 percent of our customers are bad people,” said Rakvistwong Visit, country representative of CamTel, which uses the 018 prefix.
Steve Yanuar, country director of landline operator Camintel, said, for example, its Battambang office had a foreign customer who made $5,000 worth of phone calls in two weeks and left Cambodia before even receiving a bill. Yanuar said the foreigner was arrested because the branch office kept a passport record.
“It could help trace such bad customers, but it would be impossible to trace criminals who use cell cards because anybody can buy a card and use it with somebody’s mobile phones,” Yanuar said.
Indeed, business people argue that many crimes are not committed by registered customers but by those who steal phones or use public phones and fax machines. Several telephone company officials said they did not expect the directive to have significant impact.
“Nowadays criminals are getting smart. Instead of using mobile phones, they use public phones,” said one top official of a mobile phone company, who asked not to be named. “Requiring IDs alone can not minimize crimes like kidnapping.”