December 9th, 2012

Has anyone ever penetrated the ‘MYS’tery surrounding that bizarre byte of technology called the SIM card? The complexity of the technology behind those bits of cardboard is only second to the perplexing contractual obligations that accompany them in the EU!

I’m developing a novel phobia which I’ll name ‘symphonia’ or fear of phony, but binding, agreements made with a government regarding these mobile services. They contain clauses which make you legally liable for the intentions and actions of others who happen to be at the other end of a text message or voice interaction unhappily invading your phone.
How often do you wind up speaking to strangers with no knowledge of their plans to derive financial benefit from you? I know I’ve received a lot of spam emails offering me large sums of money if I only agreed to open a bank account for a prince in some foreign land.

Vendors in phone stores here in the Euro-zone have informed me that there are no cell phones in use which do not have SIM cards. Each country requires you to buy a new SIM in their realms with a new contract. In my experience, the contract in Greece was the most intrusive of privacy, requiring the names of my parents (despite being deceased) as part of the required ID information. Apparently one’s passport or license number is insufficient.

Here is the contractual agreement I made with the Greek government although the vendors always denied they had any connection with the state. The very beginning of the contract will disabuse you of that notion:

“On my individual responsibility and on awareness of the sanctions defined on the provisions of paragraph 6 of article 22 of law: 1599/1986, I solemnly declare:
That I am the owner of the SIM-Wind Hellas Telecommunications s.a. (ICCD) with number _____ of the respective mobile telephone number WIND _____. User of the Sime-WIND Hellas Telecommunications s.a. (ICCD) with number ______ of the respective mobile telephone number WIND ______ is ________ with the following official identity information: (a) full name _______ (b) father’s name________ (c) place and date of birth _______________ (d) photocopy of identity card/passport/other respective official document (for non-Greek citizens) (e) tax registration number _______ (if issued).

All personal information provided in the current declaration is accurate and true.”

Below this header and lines for signatures of you, the buyer and a witness, the vendor, comes the following requirements:

(1) The interested citizen should state the authority of public service to which the declaration is addressed.
(2) It should be provided in words.
(3) “Whoever by knowledge states false facts or denies or withholds the true ones with a written declaration of the article 8 is punished with at least (3) months of imprisonment. If the performer of these acts intended to obtain for him or another economic benefit against a third party or to inflict harm to another party, shall be punished with imprisonment up to 10 years.”
(4) In case the space provided in this page of the document is not sufficient, the declaration continues on the back page and is signed by the declarer.
(5) User: any physical entity (individual) or legal entity that uses publicly available mobile telecommunication services for personal or professional purposes without necessarily being a subscriber to the provider of the service.

Then comes another few pages of details which defied the vendor’s capacity to interpret for me, although a previously seen translation held a number of standard clauses which didn’t make much sense to me even in English.

Once must have phones to use in everyday life and for emergencies. However, I had no desire to incur penalties from the use of such a device in this day and age where privacy is absent. The contract also directs you to offer permission for visibility to the company and the vendor pre-selects this for you. Also preselected was my address. As a tourist, I was staying in hotels but the salesperson wanted to use the store address as my own. From what I understood of the contract, that might have been tantamount to perjury!

In my former professional life, I was required to write legal documents and contracts all the time to obtain needed therapeutic services for my clients and funding for my school programs. I had no intention of signing a contract with the Greek government which made no sense but might just make me responsible for WWIII should it break out during a phone call of mine. Therefore, I added my own riders which the vendor said the company might, or might not, accept. I wrote:

“This contract was only supplied to me in Greek without benefit of a translator. I sign with the understanding that I am not a citizen and am residing in a hotel. I have NO responsibility for the actions or intentions of others communicating with me on this number, nor any interests in their economic benefits etc. This number is purely for mechanical purposes in teh making of phone calls and has no other significance.”

I completed the form by noting at the foot of each page to ‘see rider page 4’ and at the end, ‘Page 4, nullifying certain terms not applicable to me under terms of my temporary residence here and purposes for this business transaction.’

Then I signed the bottom of the page and hoped that WIND wouldn’t cut off service to me when they read it. Further, I altered the pre-designated visibility provision of my number to ‘no’.

I don’t think buying a cell phone should require lawyers, a mortgage broker or other assistance but , if the legal issues are so large, vendors need to post the relevant information on the store walls in several major languages. Consumers need to know the gravity with which the government recognizes phone contacts as part of a tax generating business or merely for scrutiny at will. Take a look at your contract (mine was a pay-as-you-go) and decide if you want to cancel it and adopt another with your preferred riders. Contacting your country’s communications divisions might also lead to a reduction in complexity and risks.

Categories: Life Observations

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