Claro backs cell phone tracking plan; Digicel, LIME in wait-and-see mode
Mark Titus, Business Reporter
Local telecomS firms are all awaiting the Government's next move to pass laws required to give teeth to its plan for a system of mandatory registration of subscriber information (MSRI) in Jamaica, but already, one company, Claro, is throwing its unconditional support behind the move, even as its competitors, Digicel and LIME, adopt a more a cautious tone.
The Government's intention to introduce an MSRI system to help stem the worsening crime situation was announced almost two weeks ago by National Security Minister Dwight Nelson.
The initiative is expected to see the three mobile phone companies providing data on request as part of law enforcement.
Already, the Government has held talks with all three firms regarding the legislative requirements for implementation, director of communications and public affairs at the security ministry, Gillian Haughton, said this week.
"The Ministry of National Security had a major round of discussions with the security forces on the security threat that the absence of MRSI poses for the country's security," Haughton said.
The ministry is "looking at the question of the legal framework" under which the registration and tracking system would be introduced, she said.
"We welcome the move and are committed to it," said marketing manager of Claro Jamaica, Joseph Oates.
"Claro completely supports anything and everything that will assist in stemming or reducing crime."
Oates said the telecoms provider's Mexican operation already had such a system in place.
"Claro's inclusion of this locally should not, therefore, prove difficult," he said.
"We are patiently waiting on further information from the Government (and), once the Government indicates its course of action, we will determine how to proceed and what systems to implement."
Digicel, while supporting the proposed new dimension to the Government's crime-fighting initiative, said the potential cost was among its concerns.
"The effect of such a move will depend on the specific requirements set by Government," said Richard Fraser, head of legal and regulatory affairs.
"As matters currently stand, the costs associated with establishing a unique database of subscriber information which accords with the Government's requirements remains unclear, particularly in respect of how it is to be funded and the timelines for implementation."
LIME Jamaica said it was still evaluating the proposal and would not be drawn into commenting.
"We respectfully decline to speak on the issue at this time," Camille Taylor, corporate communications manager at the company, said by email this week.
Their different preliminary responses aside, both Claro and Digicel have found common ground on the matter of subscriber confidentiality in the operation of the proposed system.
"Digicel is, and has always been, obliged to keep subscriber information confidential," its spokesman, Fraser, said.
"Disclosure of subscriber information is governed by the Telecommunications Act and Interception of Communications Act, whereby operators are only required to disclose information pursuant to a court order. As far as we are aware, the proposed implementation of mandatory registration requirements would not change this obligation or process."
Digicel, whose business spans the Caribbean, is subject to similar registration requirement in Guyana.
The Irish-owned firm, which is headquartered in Jamaica, has also expressed concern about the fate of customers who purchased SIM cards prior to the company having implemented its own registration of clients' personal details in June last year. Currently, the mandatory registration of subscribers is practised in a number of countries, including Nigeria, Bulgaria and Malaysia, targeting prepaid subscribers in particular.
In each case, the scheme was introduced to enable authorities to track perpetrators of serious crimes, such as assassinations, kidnapping and drug dealing.