Investigated: How Citizens may Bypass the Real-name Registration of SIM Cards

As the real-name registration programme for Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) Cards went into effect last year, citizens are required to register all pre-paid SIM cards before Feb. 24, 2023. A failure to do so would cause the SIM cards to be deactivated. It has been discovered that some outlaws have decided to abuse the system to make some quick money, through selling identities for SIM cards registration.

Following the social unrest in Hong Kong in 2019, the SAR government proposed the Real-name Registration Programme for SIM Cards, hoping “plug the existing loophole raised from the anonymous nature of SIM cards.” While some law-abiding citizens were willing to register their SIM cards with their identities, some were more hesitant to do so, as they believed the registration could cause privacy issues. Coupled with online selling platforms’ inaction to regulate, the governments’ Real-name Registration Programme is set to face efficiency and legal problems.

The official website of the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) stated that all pre-paid SIM card users are required to register their numbers with their names. As the programme commenced, all unregistered pre-paid SIM cards will be deactivated on Feb. 24, 2023, while the OFCA spokesperson told us that deactivated SIM cards could still be re-activated upon the completion of real name registration, even after the deadline.

A timeline of the registration. Source: OFCA website
A timeline of the registration. Source: OFCA website

After the regulations came into effect, pro-establishment news outlets, including Wen Wei Po and Sing Tao Daily, exposed that some unlawful individuals are providing “fake-name” registration service using others’ identities for $1,000 to $1,500, on Facebook and in the retail stores on Apliu Street.

We spoke to three pre-paid SIM card users, and only one of them said they have already completed the registration, while the other two said they were concerned about their privacy and online security when using applications like Telegram and Tao Bao if they cannot use SIM cards anonymously. They also added their interest in using SIM cards under other people’s identities.

John Leung, a youth using pre-paid SIM card, said the service provider keeps sending SMS messages to remind him to register his pre-paid SIM card, but he has no plans of completing the registration, saying that the purpose of using pre-paid SIM card is to protect privacy, as well as identity.

We want to hide our identities as if we are lost in space, that’s why pre-paid SIM cards are nicknamed ‘Space Cards (太空卡)’ in Chinese.”

– John Leung, 20-something pre-paid SIM card user

We went to Apliu Street on Feb. 16, but did not notice any issues of registration under others’ identities. We’ve visited more than 20 retail stores on the street, and all but “Ah Jeun” were reluctant to talk to us. Ah Jeun said retail stores on Apliu Street should know the regulation well, and there are no “fake identities” provided on Apliu street.

There is no such thing as ‘making up an identity’ – unless you can make a fake ID card – you need an actual ID card to finish the registration. ”

– Ah Jeun, pre-paid SIM cards retailer in Apliu Street

A retail person (not Ah Jean) explain the process of SIM card real-name registration to his customers on Feb. 23, 2023. More than 20 similar stores are selling pre-paid SIM cards on Apliu Street. Photo credit: Eric Lam
A retail person (not Ah Jeun) explains the process of SIM card real-name registration to his customers on Feb. 23, 2023. More than 20 similar stores are selling pre-paid SIM cards on Apliu Street. Photo credit: Eric Lam

However, we found more than 600 search results related to “real-name registration of SIM card” on Carousell, the famous local second-hand market space app, on the deadline of the registration. Many of these products’ description wrote “no registration needed,” “used SIM card,” or “ registration service provided .”

We disguised ourselves as customers and contacted a user on the app providing a “fake-name” registration service for $500. He said he can “provide others’ names” for registration if we send him a phone number using pre-paid SIM card. He further showed us some of his past deals of registration using with others’ identities.

We denied the offer as it may cause legal problems. There are no further information on how these sellers gained access to others’ identities, nor the reason they’re providing the service.

In response to the issue, Carousell’s spokesperson said that the provision of the service to complete real-name registration with others’ identities is not included in the platform’s “list of prohibited items.” The spokesperson further suggested us to contact their official email, instead of customer service. However, Carousell refused to reply to any enquiries from non-governmental parties.

Please be sure to use the dedicated mailbox of the government agency or relevant investigation unit to write the letter, because the system only accepts emails from the dedicated mailbox domain.”

– The Carousell spokesperson said via their email

The OFCA spokesperson told us that all SIM cards provision service in Hong Kong are required to register with a real-name, which means there is no so-called “registration-free SIM card.” The OFCA spokesperson further said that using the loophole of using others’ names may offend the Theft Ordinance and the Crimes Ordinance, which could lead to imprisonment of 10 to 14 years.

OFCA is aware of the purported sale of registered PPS (pre-paid SIM) cards with the use of others’ identities on the Internet and have referred the cases to Police for follow-up.”

– The OFCA spokesperson

(Featured image: Eric Lam)

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