Sri Lanka: BIG BROTHER wants a photo of every mobile user!

Posted on August 4, 2008  /  22 Comments

Orwellian drama continues – with some mobile operators taking it to a level far beyond the expectations of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka with the two magic words ‘National Security’ wining everyone’s blind approval.

Now Mobitel wants a photograph of every subscriber – either to register or re-register. (Wasn’t it irresponsible for Mobitel in the first place to provide a connection to somebody not registered with them? – beats us!) They have shutterbugs ready for tasks at their outlets. All you have to do is to walk in. If you don’t like being photographed by them, take a passport size photo of you. 3.5 x 4.5 cm size. Easy.

Why they need your photograph? If the authorities want they can always trace the number of your National Identity Card, Driving License or Passport (which you have to provide for registration) to their databases for a photo. Why keep an additional photo with your operator? Is Mobitel planning to build a FaceBook?

What Mobitel does not reveal in its colour full page advertisements on Sunday newspapers are the steps it takes to protect your privacy. Usually, whatever the information provided by a customer is available to hundreds of their employees –perhaps thousands – including call centre agents. Does Mobitel guarantee the privacy of the photographs they take? Does it follow international standards in computer security? Or is it just like uploading a photo to the public domain in FaceBook? (NB. Usually call center operators can access all your call information and contacts)

A responsible subscriber is someone who provides all necessary information accurately to one’s operator. A responsible operator is someone who respects the privacy of a subscriber. What a subscriber does not like to see is her photo digitally affixed to the body of Jessica Alba, sun bathing.

Our sincere hope is that Mobitel would understand and guarantee the privacy to its subscribers. That is the least it could do for making its subscribers making an additional trip for registration/reregistration.


  1. What I see with the government is “they do not know what the new technology is” OR they don’t care about it.

    It is pretty much easy to track all the people in our country.
    (since almost all government places have Telephone)

    they just have to monitor people from ,
    Hospitals, schools, I&E depmt

    (just have to give a SSN and ask for that on any place)

  2. Just to clarify things… according to the new rules, is this compulsory for every service provider? Lets say I switch service providers, will I still have to go through this fiasco sometime?? Or is Dialogs #132# adequate compliance with the regulations?

  3. I think a few other countries in the world have similar need to register/re register with the service provider, and you get a card/slip of paper to carry around in your wallet with you.

    With the grand underground schemes that phones are used for these days, I suppose this practice is ok. It would prove helpful for the law in the long run. Though in the short run, i would prove a hassle for us all.

    Adopting this Mobitel facility all round by other service providers is ok I suppose. A national level thing for what you call a ‘national security’ reason. Would you rather face a few minutes hassle or spend a lot more time suffering the consequences of an ignored national security? Just point I’ve been thinking of since they announced this need.

  4. Hi I think, What ever the regulation is, as a Moitel customer I’m happy that they are even taking my photograph at least I know I have regsitered my self fully. The national Id carries a photograph which was taken when you may be in your late teens,So taking a photograph is valid. If you visist India you’ll know how strict they are on this too. People should realise that crime in this country is risen mainly due to the mis use of mobile phones. Further to the point this country now needs stringent laws to discipline society and I feel people need to follow them no matter what. As a country for us to speak of data privacy we have not reached atleast 200 years of development. We are in infacny and cannot afford to speak of it.. yet.. lets get the basic right.. we are yet not in fantasy land..

  5. ජංගම දුරකතන සීමාවන්ට එරෙහිව පෙත්සමක්
    අගෝ. 04 – ජංගම හා රැහැන් රහිත දුරකතන ඒවායේ ලියාපදිංචි හිමිකරුවන්ට පමණක් භාවිත
    කිරීමට හැකිවන පරිදි රෙගුලාසි පැනවීම ස්වභාවික යුක්ති මුලධර්ම උල්ලංඝනය කිරීමක් බව
    දක්වමින් පෙත්සමක් අභියාචනාධිකරණයට අද ඉදිරිපත් කෙරිණ.

    නීතිඥවරයකු වූ සුදර්ශන ගුණවර්ධන මහතා ඉදිරිපත් කළ මෙම පෙත්සමෙන් විදුලි සංදේශ
    නියාමන කොමිසන් සභාව, එහි සභාපතිවරයා සහ අධ්‍යක්ෂ ජනරාල්වරයා වගඋත්තරකරුවන්
    ලෙස නම්කර තිබේ.

    පෙත්සමෙන් දක්වා ඇත්තේ, ජංගම හා රැහැන් රහිත දුරකථන ඒවායේ ලියාපදිංචි අයිතිකරුවන්ට
    පමණක් භාවිත කිරීමට හැකි වන ලෙස රෙගුලාසි පනවමින් ජුලි 12 වැනි දින විදුලි සංදේශ නියාමන
    කොමිසන් සභාව නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කර ඇති බවය.

    ඒ අනුව, විදුලි සංදේශ නියාමන කොමිෂන් සභාව අත්තනෝමතික ලෙස ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීමට යන
    මෙම පියවර වළක්වන නියෝගයක් පනවන ලෙස පෙත්සමෙන් ඉල්ලා ඇත.

  6. Anyone,

    Is this true. I use an original handset and I got 00 as the serial no. when i tried. is it the same with other bad numbers ???

    Very very informative mail for you..please don’t forget to forward.

    Would you like to know ifyour mobile is original or not ?????

    Press the following on your mobile *#06# and the-international mobile equipment identity number appears. Then check the 7thand 8thnumbers:

    IF the Seventh & Eighth digits are 02 or 20this means your cell phone was assembled in Emirateswhich is very Bad quality

    IF the Seventh & Eighth digits are 08or 80this means your cell phone was manufactured in Germany which is fair quality

    IF the Seventh & Eighth digits are01 or 10this means your cell phone was manufactured in Finland which is very Good

    IF the Seventh & Eighth digits are 00this means your cell phone was manufactured in original factory which is the best Mobile Quality

    IF the Seventh & Eighth digits are 13this means your cell phone was assembled in Azerbaijanwhich is very Bad quality and also dangerous for your health

  7. What else do you expect of Mobitel? It is a fully owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka Telecom, which itself is majority-owned by the government of Sri Lanka. So when the government says jump, Mobitel and SLT only ask how high, and then jump higher than that to impress the political masters.

    Privacy? What privacy? This is Sri Lanka where the Ministry of Offence (sorry, defence) may do whatever they want not just with the information about citizens but the citizens themselves. Don’t you dare even question it, or you will be branded as a traitor against the Sinhala Buddhist cause!

  8. Well, I feel that Kari Appa’s conclusion is baseless, This forum does not demand that kind of remarks. The government in this country is fighting a war to proctect the interests of all the communities.. Tamils are killing Tamils my friend.. and Some Tamils who go in search for hope and peace in some other land are funding Terrorists to make this land a worst place for their own community.. so please know that whatever you say its nothing to do with a Sinhala Buddhist cause.. its a matter of national security… Well as far as the registration is concerned .. Mobitel , Tigo or Dialog no one should comment on it.. They are doing their best to Comply … This is the problem with a Majority of us Sri lankan’s we are good critics but a bunch of hopeless im practical people when it comes to doing it..

  9. Well, at least we know BIG Brother is looking after us all. Mobitel is doing something solid by the looks of it. This feels more secure, somehow. A card with your picture. Any security checkpoint on the road can easily ID you, know you are a citizen of Sri Lanka AND a Mobitel user (who actually owns that simcard). Feels a bit VIP treatment – just flash your Mobitel Card!

    1. not a very imperssive card emile.Black and white. Rather keep in wallet and not take out. Too embarrasing. My uncle has one. His picture looks awful too. Mobitel going cheap.

  10. Well… Final socially responsible Mobile operators such as Mobitel have taken bold steps to re-register the subscribers. believe its a very good move. Some may not like it especially involved in illegal activities. Good for those buggers.. But rest of the genuine users it is very safe and we are helping the country to be a more secure place..

  11. A very well organized and planned step taken by Mobitel by making it compulsory for everybody to Re-Register with their photographs. They have set a comprehensive benchmark for entire telecommunication industry. I personally believe that all other service providers should follow this and provide all their subscribers with such an identification certificate along with a recently taken photograph on it.

    Though we have to submit a copy of NIC when we buy a SIM card, it is obvious that the photograph of the NIC copy is not clear or does not match with the current appearance of the subscriber. Tigo is providing a Certificate of ownership which is very good, but they have transferred the responsibility of matching the facial appearance against the NIC photograph to their front liners. The market leader Dialog has taken a ‘just to comply’ kind of action by providing only a Digital certificate (that even without validating the accuracy of their customer information databases).

    If you visit the Mobitel website, you will notice the steps they have taken in order to communicate this procedure to the general public. All of their dealer’s are provided with a S/T/E comprehensive instruction manual & an FAQ as well.

    Mobitel has done a great job & really proven that they are the “National Service Provider” of Sri Lanka….!!!

  12. No dispute about every handset being connected to a real human being. There should not be ownerless handsets. Every motor vehicle must have a verifiable owner. One person may own lots of vehicles, but allow others to drive. But the owner must take final responsibility that the vehicle is not used for illegal acts.

    In the same way, we should allow a phone owned by one person to be used by another. Sharing should not be prohibited because many at the bottom of the pyramid use phones this way.

    Does the photo approach solve the problem of a young person being given a phone for a limited time, so that the parents can be in touch?

    Pakistan is working on making sure that no unregistered ownerless SIMs are floating around: Sri Lanka operators should do this too. But compelling us to carry additional pieces of paper that may or may not be forged is not the solution.

  13. another person has gone against BIG BROTHER

  14. What is going on here now ?
    We can see most of the people including Prof & Chanuka had critisized Mobitel’s approach of Subscriber Re-Registration.

    Now recently President of Sri Lanka has issued an order with regard to Mobille/CDMA Subscriber registration. According to that;

    – ‘A recent Photograph’ is mandatory
    – Current address & several information required
    – If a phone (mobile/CDMA) is shared, information related to sharing personnel should be submitted.
    – Everybody who are not been registered by 30th April 2009 have to be disconnected.

    Why don’t you write on this ? Isn’t this the hottest topic at the moment in Sri Lankan telecommunication industry ?
    @ Prof & Chanuka, Why Don’t you criticize President of Sri Lanka now as you did it for Mobitel ? Now what about your privacy ? guarantee ?
    If you can’t do it, why don’t you appreciate Mobitel’s forward looking approach compared to rest of the operators ?

    Here we go….

    May God save all operators of Sri Lanka

    1. Suggest nadeera start her own blog. That way she can control the issues that are written about. We have not promised comprehensive coverage of all telecom issues in any of the countries we work in. And Sri Lanka is not the most important among that set.

  15. Add to that, we follow issues, not necessarily news – unless it is pressing. Why repeat we already said?

  16. Prof, Thank you very much for your suggestion. And it is great to hear that Sri Lanka is not the most important among that set. But a small correction, i never questioned about the superiority of Sri Lanka.

    Chanuka, Let’s wait until 30th April when millions of Mobile/CDMA subscribers get disconnected if this order is in effect. At least you will understand what is the meaning of ‘pressing’.

    Anyway None of you have answered the issue or the problems I raised. Let’s see how long you can skip this issue and when you start comment on this. Thanks a lot.

    1. Sarcasm is wasted on us. Best put those energies into something constructive.

      We are a regional think tank that happens to be headquartered in Colombo. We work in 11 countries, including India. The population of India is 1.1 billion and they activate 15 million new SIMs a month. Sri Lanka’s population is 20 million.

      Which country should be more important to a regional think tank?

  17. Dear Prof.
    So Mobitel Started it. Fine. But now war is over… Will Mobitel continue to produce cards? Overheads? Long term survival? Airtel is raising head and Dialog could not be pushed off its pedestal. They all adopted the idea… as its cheaper to adopt than innovate.

    Will it be continued? IT should. but will it?
    Mobitel spends on cricket high. Can finances matter?