An Austrian government draft law requiring all new prepaid users to register their personal details faced criticism by the Association of Alternative Telecommunications Operators (VAT), which includes Hutchison 3 Austria, T-Mobile Austria and Tele2.

The government proposes introducing the registration programme on 1 January 2018 as part of broader security measures. The rule would apply only to new SIM cards as it is believed it is not feasible to expect users of the 3.5 million SIM cards out of the total 5.1 million currently in circulation to reigster.

Even so, operators said the move will mean a decrease in sales of smartphones and SIM cards in supermarkets – currently anyone can buy or top-up a prepaid SIM without registering their personal details. Users wishing to top-up will need to show ID, which could also prove to be a deterrent.

According to Hutchison, there has been no decrease in criminal activities in countries where similar rules were implemented. The operator also pointed out the UK, Romania and Czech Republic have rejected proposals to introduce registration.

In a statement, it said the draft law would be an “additional burden” on operators, and counterproductive to the government’s broadband and 5G expansion plans.

VAT said operators will no longer be able to offer top-ups online or via ATMs. It pointed out SIM cards can either be acquired with fake documents or in an EU country where registration is not required, and then used in Austria, since roaming costs in the EU have been abolished.

In February, Poland’s operators disabled an estimated 12 million SIM cards in the country, in accordance with new anti-terrorism laws.

One of the most high-profile recent cases regarding registering SIM cards was in Nigeria where MTN was hit with a fine of $5.2 billion for failing to cut off unregistered SIM cards from its network.