Singapore has become the latest country to acknowledge the lethal potential of the humble prepaid phone card by imposing tighter controls on its use. From Nov 1, all prepaid cards have to be registered and only those aged 15 and above can buy them. Also, each person will be not be allowed to own more than 10 cards.
"Criminals exploit the anonymity of prepaid SIM cards to avoid detection," Singapore Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kang Seng, said on Oct 21.
Terrorist groups such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) are among those who have made use of prepaid cards for their terror activities.
Mr Wong said: "In Songkhla, Thailand, this April, three simultaneous bombings happened … detonated using mobile phones, possibly utilising prepaid SIM cards."
In Singapore, detained JI members also told the authorities that they made extensive use of the SIM cards while planning their operations. It was a tactic taught at a course in Afghanistan that a local JI member had attended.
Under the new ruling, users of the more than 1.4 million prepaid cards in circulation here have until May 1 to register. The registration is compulsory and can be done at any retailer that sells the phone cards.
Terrorism research analyst Sarah Burnell believes that requiring the prepaid cards to be registered would help to limit terrorists' operations.
"Terrorist groups do use the opportunity to act anonymously and prepaid SIM cards have been used to do so," said Ms Burnell, who is with the Institute ofDefence And Strategic Studies.
Countries such as Switzerland, Australia and Malaysia have already passed laws making it compulsory to register the personal details of the card owners.
Indonesia is also planning to restrict the sale of prepaid cards for mobile phones by requiring users to register with the authorities.
Investigations into the series of bombings that had rocked the country in recent years suggested that just before any bomb attack, numerous calls were recorded by network operators. But the authorities could not identify the callers as the calls were made on prepaid cards which were not registered.
* Tighter controls on prepaid cellphone cards (The Straits Times, Oct 22)
* JI used prepaid SIM cards to avoid detection (The Straits Times, Oct 22)