Egypt asks mobile firms to bar anonymous users

Mon May 5, 2008 1:02pm EDT
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By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has asked mobile phone companies to block service to anonymous subscribers as a public security measure, and at least two firms have begun efforts to comply, Egyptian officials and mobile firms said on Monday.

The move comes as Egypt tries to combat a wave of public discontent over rising prices and low wages that have sparked a series of labor and anti-government strikes, organized largely by mobile phone and over the Internet.

The move is expected to affect several hundred thousand customers who did not register their names and addresses when they acquired phone lines -- still a small portion of overall subscribers in the most populous Arab country.

"Everyone who uses the telephone must be known," Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid told a news conference, adding that the move was needed for "public security."

Vodafone Egypt, one of three mobile operators in Egypt, has started disabling text messaging capabilities for anonymous subscribers, and was asking them to come forward with their details, a company spokesman said.

Rival operator Mobinil linked the move to government plans for mobile number portability, which would allow subscribers to change service providers while keeping their original phone numbers.

"We are contacting our subscribers to update their data in order to avoid future suspension or disconnection," a Mobinil investor relations official said.

Both providers said they were acting based on an Egyptian government request. Egypt's third mobile operator, Etisalat, was not available for comment.   Continued...