Hong Kongers unable or unwilling to link their SIM cards to their real names found their mobile phones switched off this morning as the government’s SIM card registration deadline loomed.

According to RTHK, as of February 21, 2023, about 12 million prepaid and contract SIM cards were registered. They were linked to users’ full name, date of birth and ID. Each user could register up to 10 SIM cards through telecommunications providers. Government officials say the move will deter fraudsters, identity thieves and IED makers.

Office of the Communications Authority Head Sidney Tsan said the registration plan was vital to law and order: “The real-name registration programme aims to plug the loophole arising from the anonymous nature of pre-paid SIM cards and to assist law enforcement agencies in the detection of crimes involving the use of pre-paid SIM cards, thereby helping safeguard the integrity of telecommunications services and the security of communications networks, as well as law and order.”

Meanwhile, a mainland Chinese official admitted that the registration scheme was implemented for national security reasons.

While officials say the move is ostensibly to close loopholes, roaming SIM cards will not be affected, meaning mobile phone users will still be able to anonymously use foreign SIM cards.

Unregistered phone users may still have an opportunity to reactivate their SIMs, according to de Director-General of Communications at the Communications Authority, Chaucer Leung. “If people have not registered after the deadline, as long as the [pre-paid] SIM card is still valid with remaining balance, they can still ask their telecom service provider for a resubmission of registration.”

According to a 2021 poll conducted by the pro-democracy Civic Party, nearly 60% of Hong Kong SAR residents fear that the practice of linking SIM cards to real names will give the police new powers to access users’ personal data.