There are still places in the world where you can buy and activate SIMs without having to provide any sort of ID. The UK is one of them. The operators don’t like it and try to incentivise registration by offering discounts. But weirdly, in 2005 Blair’s UK government proposed ID checks for SIMS and after consultation decided not to. Wow. That doesn’t sound like the UK government at all. Any UK government. Ever.
A confidential report by experts concluded that “the compulsory registration of ownership of mobile telephones would not deliver any significant new benefits to the investigatory process and would dilute the effectiveness of current self-registration schemes.”
Another thing that’s important is that the evidence shows that registering SIMs doesn’t seem to help with law enforcement at all (the UK Government didn’t know this in 2005).
In Mexico, mandatory SIM registration was introduced in 2009 but repealed three years later after a policy assessment showed that it had not helped the prevention, investigation and prosecution of associated crimes. The reasons cited by the senate for repealing the regulation included:
(i) Statistics showing a 40 per cent increase in the number of extortion calls recorded daily and an increase of eight per cent in the number of kidnappings between 2009 and 2010;
(ii) The appreciation that the policy was based on the misconception that criminals would use mobile SIM cards registered in their names or in the name of their accomplices. The report suggests that registering a phone not only fails to guarantee the accuracy of the user’s details but it could also lead to falsely accusing an innocent victim of identity theft;
(iii) The acknowledgement that mobile operators have thousands of distributors and agents that cannot always verify the accuracy of the information provided by users;
(iv) Lack of incentives for registered users to maintain the accuracy of their records when their details change, leading to outdated records;
(v) The likelihood that the policy incentivised criminal activity (mobile device theft, fraudulent registrations or criminals sourcing unregistered SIM cards from overseas to use in their target market); and
(vi) The risk that registered users’ personal information might be accessed and used improperly.
(same source as above)
I’m sure that the impracticalities were the deciding factor and easy to see how gradual legislation might iron these out. For all I know, the government was playing a long game. But one thing’s certain: the moment the government starts to make noises about registering SIMS, companies will be buying up and registering huge stocks of SIMS that don’t need ID and the prices will skyrocket. Presumably organised crime will find ways to launder SIMs, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard. People certainly seem to get access to non-registered SIMs pretty much anywhere on the planet, even China.