“You need a permanent residency,” said an employee at Touch, a mobile services company in Lebanon, to Syrian Alaa Al-Zuhuri when she tried to purchase a new SIM card yesterday.
SMEX contacted Touch’s administration who confirmed the re-adoption of a strict policy regarding identification documents needed to buy a new SIM. “It’s a matter of security. This policy applies to all users, both Lebanese citizens and residents,” the source said. “The papers have to be valid and issued by the relevant authorities, based on the directives of the Ministry and the company.”
The source explained that to prevent forgery, the company will not accept civil records or handwritten documents from Lebanese citizens. ID pictures where the person appears to be much younger or has different features will also be considered invalid.
When asked about the recent incident involving a Syrian woman who was denied a new SIM card, the source said she would need a magnetic residency card from General Security, not a handwritten document. They did not provide further details about temporary, permanent, or any other residency documents.
According to a spokesperson from Alfa, these measures are not new and have been in place for some time. “Anyone seeking to obtain a new SIM card must provide an official document to confirm their identity, such as a Lebanese ID for Lebanese citizens, a passport for foreigners, or an identity and residency card issued by the General Security for Syrians or foreigners residing in Lebanon.”
Regarding concerns about identity verification, the source from Alfa denied any issues “at least thus far.”
Touch is Responsible
In parallel, communications expert Wassim Mansour expressed concerns to SMEX about Touch’s new decision, warning that it may negatively impact the telecommunications sector in Lebanon. Mansour said it would limit the sales of new SIM cards and deprive many of their right to communicate and stay connected.
Mansour, who was the former director of Touch, emphasized that purchasing a new SIM card requires a valid ID, a residential address, and a photo of the buyer taken at the sales’ points. He stressed the importance of applying this policy to everyone and not just to a specific nationality.
In April, local media reported suspicions of corruption in verifying users’ identities when buying a new SIM card. Touch employees were allegedly involved in selling mobile SIMs without valid identity cards, using IDs of citizens that are not the real buyers.
In response to the report aired by the “Lebanese Media Corporation” (LBCI) TV on April 2, 2023, Touch issued a statement on April 3, stating it has been aware of these fraudulent practices for several months, and that the issue is under investigation. The company stated that legal measures have been taken against the perpetrator, but it has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation.
However, SMEX obtained a report from the Cybercrime Bureau confirming that the issue originated from Touch’s employees and that the investigation was initiated prior to the media reports. The report revealed that many points of sale violated the provisions for selling and registering mobile lines. Thousands of illegal mobile lines were registered with fake identities or the identities of individuals without their knowledge.
A communications expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, told SMEX that Touch is to be held accountable for this issue first and foremost. “The problem is internal to Touch and users should not shoulder this responsibility,” he insisted. He also noted that “Touch should have been monitoring its activities since early sales of fake lines, leading up to recent incidents involving its employees at the company’s points of sale in Ras Beirut, Jdeideh, and other locations.”