Any ICT4D projects that run on mobile phones, like mHealth and mEducation initiatives, rely upon the benevolence of operators for their existence. And when it comes to “sensitive” activities, like social justice movements or social activism that may not be favored by the government, that reliance on mobile line operators represents a “single point of control” that can easily be controlled by those that oppose the activities of the users.

Enter Open SIM Kit, another groundbreaking idea from , this time an open source toolkit designed to allow users to modify the contents of SIM cards to disseminate information and circumvent network providers, especially in scenarios where the provider becomes compromised. is the first installment of the Abayima Project.

When I first heard of Open SIM Kit, I wondered why does this matter? When is hacking a SIM advantageous? And doesn’t that invalidate the carrier contract? In a very detailed response, Jon Gosier gives 5 reasons why Open Sim Kit matters:

  1. SIMs can be used to distribute information to people who are ‘off-grid”. Whether they are off because someone deliberately cut them off, or because they live in remote areas where cell coverage doesn’t reach.
  2. Digital file transfer is something you and I take for granted, but some parts of the world (where computers and thumb drives are scarce) can make use of it. Think of it like transferring files on a thumb drive except for people without thumb drives, or computers.
  3. Modifying the SIM does not necessarily violate any terms of agreement. It depends on what you do in the modification, actually. Simply storing messages on a SIM doesn’t change anything about its use, in fact you’ve probably already done it at least once in your lifetime by saving your address book contacts to the SIM instead of the phone.
  4. We also publish our own SIM cards, which have no restrictions on how they are used (at least not the same as a mobile carrier). These SIMs are not intended for calling but instead can be used as digital archives of information for NGOs or Journalists who want to try to reach populations in a different way. We’re already piloting this with Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
  5. Eventually, it may be possible to use SIM Kit to free the mobile phone from the normal carrier, so that it might be used with an ad-hoc tower set up during a crisis. Obviously, this would require more than a hacked SIM, but the fact that it may be possible makes it something worth pursuing.

Now those are just Jon’s thoughts – what are yours? When would an Open SIM Kit come in handy and where are you thinking of using this approach now?

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