Hong Kong set to introduce real-name registration for pre-paid SIM cards from Sept 1

Under the proposed system, people will need to register their name, identification card number and date of birth with the service provider when buying pre-paid SIM cards.
Under the proposed system, people will need to register their name, identification card number and date of birth with the service provider when buying pre-paid SIM cards.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong plans to introduce a real-name registration system for mobile phone pre-paid SIM cards in September in a bid to fight crime in the financial hub, the government said on Tuesday (June 1), a move that is likely to stoke privacy and surveillance concerns.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said the new system will require people to register their name, identification card number and date of birth with the service provider.

He added that the authorities could use a warrant to request the information.

The Bill will be considered on June 9 in the Legislative Council - where there is no opposition after mass resignations last year in protest against the disqualification of some pro-democracy lawmakers - and if it passes, will come into effect on Sept 1, Mr Yau said.

Each person can have up to 10 pre-paid cards from each service provider and consumers will be given up to March next year to register.

Many countries have such registration systems, but some people in Hong Kong fear the move is aimed at intensifying a crackdown on dissent that began with Beijing's imposition of a sweeping national security law on its freest city last year.

Now, only mobile phone users with SIM service contracts must register their personal details in Hong Kong, and anyone can buy a pre-paid SIM card from most convenience stores.

Hong Kong has one of Asia's highest smartphone penetration rates, at about 90 per cent of its population of 7.5 million, according to the government.

In 2019, Hong Kong had about 14.5 million pre-paid SIM card subscribers, an increase of 16.6 per cent on the year, according to German database firm Statista.