Tajik authorities claim that registering of the mobile devices is necessary for security reasons. However, experts consider this as a desire to replenish the budget and strengthen control over the citizens’ lives.
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Tajikistan introduces the mandatory registration of Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of devices, including phones, tablets, laptops, etc. The corresponding government decree was issued at the end of March this year.
The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of the devices is to be registered in the republic’s registration system for electronic communication mobile devices.
Communication Service under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan must determine the system operator until June 1. The decree specifies that this has to be done “with attraction of private investment”.
The government claims that the mandatory registration of devices’ IMEI is necessary “for ensuring the security and defense capabilities of the state”.
“During particularly important socio-political events, the system operator forcibly suspends and resumes the operation of electronic communication mobile devices by the request of law enforcement agencies,” the decree states.
Registration of mobile devices will be carried out within 3 months from the moment of the system’s introduction on a pilot basis by automatically connecting to the networks of mobile operators.
After that, the registration will be carried out via single portal on a pilot basis during 6 months. At these stages, the registration will be free of charge. Further, the users will have to pay for the registration of their mobile devices.
The mobile devices that are used on the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan in international roaming do not have to be registered.
Persons violating the requirements of the procedure will be held liable in accordance with the legislation of the country.
Another Way to Replenish the Budget?
Many residents of the republic reacted to the news with anger, considering this as another way to squeeze money out of poor people.
“It is simply, as Ostap said [Ostap Bender – popular fictional con man in Ilf and Petrov’s novels], another way of taking money fairly,” Dushanbe resident Zafar Sobirov is convinced.
According to him, the procedure does not make sense, since mobile operators can automatically determine IMEI.
“When registering on the network, IMEI data is automatically sent to the operator’s authentication center. It is not clear why one should go out to register,” he said.
According to an expert who previously worked at Tajik customs, this practice is usually used to combat ‘gray’ phones – that is, the smuggled devices.
Some of the citizens believe that after registration, users of mobile devices completely lose their privacy.
“After that, there will be no more needed to determine the owner. If someone writes something somewhere, his identity will be determined immediately, through the known device’s IMEI. In addition, the authorities will precisely know where the user is, what kind of device he has. At the moment, you can determine the location of the user, but it is impossible to determine his identity,” says another resident of the country.
People are outraged that now they have to stand in line for registering phones and simultaneously take a queue for re-registering SIM cards.
“During the quarantine, Internet and mobile communications are needed more than ever; they lowered prices even in Afghanistan, but our legislators and operators do not miss the opportunity to further restrict access and raise prices,” complains a resident of the capital.
Nevertheless, some of the residents were receptive to the new initiatives of the authorities.
They note that the market for stolen phones will decrease with registration: as a result, phones will be stolen less often and returned to owners more often.
At the same time, they refer to the experience of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where IMEI registration supposedly helped to reduce the rate of mobile phones’ theft.
However, there is no objective evidence supporting these opinions.
Getting Ready for the Presidential Election?
Shokirjon Khakimov, Doctor of Laws, believes that using such coercive measures as means of achieving goals has become the norm for the Tajik authorities.
“At the same time, unfortunately, the solvency of the country’s population is not always taken into account,” Hakimov told CABAR.asia.
According to him, these measures are being approved “under the pretext of various good intentions” with a reference to a similar practice in some foreign countries.
“Of course, the need for such initiatives is justified by strengthening of personal and public security guarantees. Moreover, under the pretext of national and other features, the implementation of such measures acquires a peculiar character,” the lawyer said.
In his opinion, this initiative is primarily of a political nature.
“In its core, the requirement of mandatory registration of all mobile devices is aimed at strengthening control over citizens, which is especially important in connection with the upcoming presidential election,” Khakimov said.
Furthermore, Khakimov noted, the government is trying to replenish the state budget in order to direct additional funds to maintain law enforcement agencies.
Countries With Practice Already in Place
The experts say that unified databases of mobile equipment IDs now exist in more than 30 countries of the world.
The first to begin introduction of such a system were the United States and Canada. But there, registration of identifiers is included in the purchase price of the device and subsequent network connection.
Almost the same thing happens in the EU countries: if the importer or seller assumes the obligation to register IMEI, the amount will be included in the cost of the device. If it is the operator, the cost will affect the tariff plan.
In Central Asia, this practice is implemented in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan
In Kazakhstan, for example, if a subscriber has a phone with two SIM cards, it must be registered twice. If the device is changed, it must be deregistered. If the device is lost, one should inform the mobile operator about it.
Azerbaijan and Turkey started registering IMEI at the beginning of 2010s. So, for example, for a device registration in Turkey, citizens pay 100 to 400 US dollars per year.
By law, each mobile device imported into Azerbaijan must be registered within 30 days. The service is provided free of charge and is available on the electronic government portal for those with an electronic digital signature. Moreover, the requirement does not apply to foreigners and tourists using their SIM-cards and roaming in Azerbaijan.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.