Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development: briefing on Regulation of Interception of Communications & Provision of Communication Related Information Amendment Act
29 Jun 2009
Hon Jeffrey Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development
Hon Andries Nel, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development
Mr Tlali Tlali, Spokesperson: Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development
Mr Deon Rudman, Deputy Director General: Legislation, Department of Justice & Constitutional Development
Mr Zolisa Masiza, Chief Corporate Services Officer, MTN
Ms Dot Field, Chief Communications Officer, Vodacom
Ms Leona Mentz, Head: Regulatory Compliance, CellC
Hon Jeffrey Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, presented a statement explaining the purpose of the Regulation of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Amendment Act of 2008 (RICA Amendment Act). He explained the nature of the amendments, and indicated that these were aimed at enabling tracking of cell-phones that might have been used for criminal operations, in line with international best practices. Both pre-paid and contract cell phone users would be required to register.
Q: A journalist asked the service providers if they could indicate the number of SIM cards that were in
A: Ms Leona Mentz, Head: Regulatory Compliance, CellC, responded that CellC had approximately 7 million subscribers, but it was difficult to say if this corresponded with the number of people in possession of SIM cards since some people had more than one SIM card.
A: Mr Zolisa Masiza, Chief Corporate Services Officer, MTN, responded that MTN had reached SIM penetration to about 17 million subscribers on their network. There would be a cost to MTN, particularly in addressing the challenges associated with informal areas, where the requirements such as proof of address could not be met in the conventional way because of the remoteness of these areas. This would require the development of new technologies. It was not, however, possible at this stage for him to indicate exactly how much the new regulations would cost the cellular companies.
Q: A journalist asked the Minister what compliance mechanisms were in place to enforce the legislation
A: Hon Jeffrey Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, responded that the RICA Amendment Act provided for stiff penalties for non-compliance, up to R100 000 for each day that a service provider failed to honour the provisions of the new law. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (the Department) had a compliance office and a single judge who was accessible to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of granting them the authority to intercept communications for the purposes envisaged in the Act.
Q: A journalist asked if the cost of this exercise would be carried over to the customer. He also asked how the legislation would operate in practice.
A: Ms Dot Field responded that none of the service providers would require that the cost be borne by the consumer.
A: Mr Masiza explained that in the past the service providers had only been able to trace the location from where a call was made. The registration required under the amended legislation would now make it possible to identify of the owner of the SIM card that was in the phone making the call.
A: Mr Deon Rudman, Deputy Director General: Legislation, Department of Justice, responded that the Department of Justice was responsible for administering the Act. A judge had been appointed, who dealt with requests for interception by law enforcement agents. The Department of Communications was responsible for regulating service providers.
Q: A journalist asked what defect the legislation sought to remedy
A: The Minister responded that the law enforcement agencies had become aware that criminals used pay-as-you-go SIM cards to plan and execute criminal activities, up till now thus avoiding detection by law enforcement agencies. This law aimed to curb serious crime and rectify the loophole that enabled anybody to buy a SIM card and use it for criminal purposes, and still remain unidentified by law enforcement agencies.
Q: A journalist asked both the Minister and the service providers how consumers would be protected from abuse of the power to intercept communications
A: Mr Masiza responded that service providers were not permitted by law to intercept any communication, without written consent from a judge, and that there was only one judge who could be approached to give that permission.
Ms Leona Mentz added that service providers complied with global standards on the protection of privacy and ensured that customers' confidential information was kept in a secure database.
The Minister responded that the Constitution of the Republic protected South African citizens from any illegal interception of communications. The RICA Act dealt with the exceptions to the Bill of Rights, in accordance with international best practice. The illegal interception of cell-phone calls, namely without the written permission of the judge, would attract a hefty fine of R2 million and 10 years imprisonment. If the offender was a company, the penalty would be a fine of R5 million.
Hon Andries Nel, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, assured the public that there were a variety of checks and balances to protect against abuse and that the administration of the RICA Act was subject to Parliamentary oversight.
Q: A journalist asked the service providers whether they had detected any trends, either increases or decreases, in the requests for interceptions of communications by law enforcement agencies since the legislation had come into operation.
A: Mr Masiza responded that there tended to be an increase in requests for tracing calls for reported thefts of cell-phones after a weekend.
Ms Dot Field responded that Vodacom trends for requests for interceptions had remained flat since the commencement of the Amendment Act.
Q: A journalist asked how the legislation operated with respect to foreign visitors and tourists, and what would occur in the event that a SIM card was lost or stolen.
A: Ms Leona Mentz responded that foreign visitors and tourists would be requested to produce their passports as proof of identity and proof of their local address in their country of origin. The law required that lost or stolen SIM cards should be reported to the police. It was an offence to fail to report the theft of a cell phone, as such a report would immediately allow for the SIM card to be blocked.
Q: A journalist asked the service providers how they would educate consumers on the new requirements
A: Ms Dot Field responded that all the service providers would embark on a combined marketing strategy using SMS and other devices, as well as having dedicated call centres to attend to consumer needs in that regard.
The briefing was adjourned
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