Sunday, April 3, 2016

Getting a SIM card for free? Check these risks by Dr.Debarati Halder

On women’s day, 2016, I was invited by Suriyan FM Tirunelveli to share my opinion about safety of women  offline and online. It is indeed a sweet surprise for me each time I receive a call from the FM listeners who refer to the particular programmes they have listened and took keen interest to learn more about the risks involved in digital communication technology. This time I had this listener who made me to think about Free SIM cards.
 Truly speaking, even though Facebook or WhatsApp may boast of its popularity in India, it has failed to penetrate the rural sectors in India, especially with women. This was seen in our latest survey titled “Harassment via Whatsapp in urban and rural India: A baseline survey report, 2015”(see . The main reason for this is obviously lack of awareness about safety tools  and the well settled fear in the minds of women that using these platforms may necessarily land them in trouble. But does that mean that women and men including matured teens in these areas are reluctant to use  digital technology communication as a whole? Perhaps NO. Mobile telecommunication companies are rapidly penetrating in the rural areas with offers on the services and this also includes distributing Free SIMs to potential customers.  This however, attracts youngsters more than Facebook or WhatsApp because distribution of  free SIM cards may not always need proper verification of documents, if distributed by local dealers including shops.  Due to easy availability of mobile phones including camera phones at prices even below Rs. 2000 in Indian markets, people enjoy owning mobile phones, most of which may be armed with inbuilt cameras and double SIM facilities. Once one has a SIM card, it may become a matter of few more rupees to upgrade the status of handset to use it as a medium of  smart phones whereby the subscriber can use the SIM for double purposes; i.e., for mobile phone calls as well as for mobile data facility to enable him to get connected with internet, no matter whether he/she knows about netiquettes or basic internet laws.  Now, one must understand that  SIM card is not an ordinary micro-level chip that enables one to communicate with others. The full form of SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module, which carries information about the holder of the SIM Card. In general, when a person buys a SIM card from a dealer, he/she is asked to provide identity verification proofs that are sent directly to the service provider to enable them to activate the SIM card in the name of the buyer/subscriber. The data that is thus revealed to the service provider, stays with them permanently as a private document which is not supposed to be exposed to any third party unless the law and justice machinery, especially the police and the courts demand such information under S.69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008) (Powers to issue direction for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource) primarily.  Many a times when a distributor offers Free SIM cards, it is necessary that the distributor checks the existing ‘contracts’ with the interested subscriber. This is what happens when one wishes to get Free SIM cards from service providers like BSNL, which generally provides such Free SIM cards at Free SIM card distribution ‘Mela’ and to those who already own a landline from the same service provider.
In cases where free SIM cards are distributed by local dealers of mobile phones , talk time or data recharge services etc, there remains a risk of distributing used SIM cards for free. These may be SIMs which have been technically ‘discarded’ by their original owners, for various reasons including blocked numbers, stolen devices along with SIMs etc. Once an interested person opts for such free SIM, he may get to see several unknown contact options. There are cases where holders of FREE SIM may also receive calls from unknown numbers at odd hours; risks relating to data privacy for mails, social media accounts or even net banking may also be there. We need to understand that not every one may be aware of lodging complaint with the service providers regarding mobile phone (along with SIM) theft, leave the question of reporting the matter to the police. Similarly, there are numerous examples of how techno savvy criminals may re-fix  the technically ‘destroyed’ SIMs to distribute it in the market only to loot innocent people or make illegal profit by secret data mining targeting women and young people. Added with it, one must not forget the cyber terrorism scenario where innocent civil citizens are ‘used’ by numerous tricks including such lucrative offers of Free SIM distribution to gain vital information. Keeping these in mind, young students, especially those who have finished their 10th or 12th board exams, college freshers  and women must be cautious enough to opt for availing SIMs just to be ‘SMART’.
Let us all unite to save our society.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2016), " Getting a SIM card for free? Check these risks” 3rd April, 2016, published in