Wale calls on gov’t to withdraw bill, points out gaps

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Leader of Opposition Matthew Wale has called on the Government to withdraw the Bill Telecommunications Amendment Bill 2021 and undertake further work on it pointing out nine areas that they need to work on.

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Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in response to Wale’s concerns told Parliament that his Cabinet will look into the Bill as they don’t have much time to look into the recommendations.

According to Wale the object of the Bill is simple – it aims to ensure that all SIM cards used in Solomon Islands are registered. The Bill also sets a minimum age for acquiring a SIM card at 15 years old. The Bill compels service providers to each establish and maintain an electronic register of personal identity information for each SIM card they or their agents sell.

But Wale said the Bill fails in its primary object to ensure that all SIM cards used in Solomon Islands are registered.

“In its current form, the Bill only requires new SIM cards bought or issued after the establishment of the registers to be registered. There is no provision in the Bill to require already issued SIM cards to be registered. In that the object is clear that ALL SIM cards are to be registered, I take it that this oversight is the result either of ambiguity in the drafting instructions or laziness in the drafting and proof reading process itself. This oversight also highlights the lack of robustness of government’s internal processes to ensure that Bills that go before Parliament are accurate and complete in representing the policy intentions of government. This is a recurring theme unfortunately. There are a number of points in the internal processes that such a significant oversight should have been picked up and rectified. It is not the role of the Bills’ Committee to rectify government Bills. I urge the government to give attention to this matter to ensure that Bills presented to the House have been through a thorough and robust process,” Wale told Parliament this morning.

He further argues against setting 5 years as the mandatory minimum period for information to be kept in the register maintained by the service providers. Wale said the service provider has the discretion to remove all information that has reached this minimum.

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“It is unclear what the policy benefit is from this choice. This creates the possibility that SIMS that have been on the register for more than 5 years could have their personal identification information removed from the register. It is therefore possible that in the sixth year after registration commences many users will seek to remove their private data from the register, and the service providers would be under no legal compulsion to refuse it. This would seem to me to be counter-productive to the object of the Bill and serves no useful policy purpose. Why should there be a minimum time limit at all? And why is the discretion over this matter given to service providers? Both service providers were bemused by this requirement,” said the MP for Aoke/Langalanga.

Wale further argues that the Bill does nothing about protecting the privacy of user information.

He says Clause 4 under the new section 78 K only deals with a service provider or agent or employee or consultant of a service provider or agent.

“Now that the Bill is compelling individuals to provide their private data, it must also protect that information from hackers, commercial harvesters and other malign actors domestically or overseas. Who is liable when private individual data is harvested from the registers? This is a significant neglect.” Wale continues: “Once law requires the collection of private individual data in today’s world, the law must also protect that data. This is a new subject for us, and ought to attract excessive penalties.”

The MP also revealed that financial institutions were not consulted at all in the processes leading to the Bill.

“This is a significant omission, given that those offering mobile financial services ought to be important stakeholders in the Bill. This omission is unjustified. The current proposals in the Bill will not add value to current financial services, as a result. This is regrettable in that the Bill represents an opportunity to address bottleneck issues in the sector,” he said.

Furthermore, Wale said the the regulator, Telecommunication Commission of Solomon Islands (TCSI) was not properly consulted as required by the principal Act.

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