Russian authorities mull biometrics requirement for SIM card purchase

Russia’s Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Digital Development are considering the imposition of stricter rules on SIM card sales in Russia to combat a burgeoning grey market that could potentially threaten domestic security, state-affiliated business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

Sources told Kommersant that one possibility being discussed was making it mandatory for anyone wanting to purchase a SIM card to provide their biometric data. Lawmakers are also considering limiting SIM card sales to technology shops, government services offices, post offices and official state apps, according to the report.

At the moment, SIM cards can be purchased in a wide array of outlets, including through third-party dealers who sign contracts with service providers. These third-party dealers are responsible for 30-70% of Russian SIM card sales, and make up the sector of the current SIM card market that has caused the most concern for the government.

When contacted for comment by Kommersant, all three major Russian telecommunications operators, MegaFon, VimpelCom and MTS, confirmed that there was an initiative underway to tighten restrictions and expressed their support for the proposed changes.

Other sources Kommersant spoke to said that if biometric data were required by law, operating costs would increase, though grey market sales might still continue.

The planned crackdown, which is likely to have gained additional momentum following the catastrophic failure of Russia’s security apparatus to prevent the Crocus City Hall terror attack in March, began in August, when Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor began requiring telecom operators to block all SIM cards with out-of-date personal data, citing concerns about “telephone terrorism” and fraud.

Kommersant reported that telecom operators now block an average of 300,000 SIM cards per week to comply with the new regulations. Last month the Ministry of Digital Development also proposed a rule that would require non-Russian citizens to submit their biometric data before buying SIM cards in Russia.

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