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‘Big Brother’ Bills on agenda

Publish date: 29 May 2006
Issue Number: 182
Diary: Legalbrief Africa Old
Category: Africa Focus

South Africa and Zimbabwe are both coming under fire over proposed legislation that will allow the government to monitor private e-mail and telephone communications, writes E-Brief News.

The laws are aimed at fighting crime, say both governments. South Africa’s biggest cellphone operator, Vodacom, has been vociferous in its criticism of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Bill which requires cellphone operators to monitor and intercept communications. It warns the Bill is impractical and places an onerous and expensive burden on the industry and clients. The Bill requires cellphone operators Vodacom, MTN and Cell C to put in place systems for the interception of cellphone communications, and to keep detailed information of all their clients, as well as phones and SIM cards, says a report on The Citizen site. Companies could face fines of R100 000 a day for non-compliance. But Vodacom CE Alan Knott-Craig said although Vodacom was willing to bear this cost if the law required it, it was practically impossible to obtain the names, addresses and ID numbers of all prepaid customers and to verify this information. There were about 20 million South Africans using pre-paid cellphones, most of whom worked in the informal sector and lived in far-flung rural areas, said Knott-Craig. Full report on The Citizen site The Bill

The outcome might be that 20 million prepaid users are barred from networks, noted Knott-Craig in a Business Day report. ‘Most of those don’t have the luxury of living in homes with addresses that made any sense, or they’re employed in the informal sector,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘Getting that information is a task that would be difficult for a government, never mind a company,’ he said. Full Business Day report

The Bill will impose fines of R100 000 for each day cellphone service providers fail to obtain and keep information on their clients, according to State law adviser Ina Botha. In turn, says a report on the News24 site, customers who sold or gave away their cellphones or SIM cards could be imprisoned for up to 12 months for failing to obtain and relay the recipient\'s personal information to a service provider. The information obtained in this fashion would be stored on a central electronic database, making it easier for law enforcement agencies to trace all previous owners of a phone or SIM card. Full report on News24 site

Zimbabwe has also unveiled its proposed law to give it the authority to monitor phone calls and mail – including e-mail – to protect national security and fight crime. Rights groups said the Bill, proposed in a Government Gazette on Saturday, was part of a crackdown to stifle criticism over a severe economic crisis many blame on the policies of President Robert Mugabe. The Interception of Communications Bill would give the Communications Minister authority to monitor the phone calls and mail of anyone suspected of threatening national security or involvement in criminal activities in the country, says a report on the News24 site. The government said the proposed Bill is similar to laws in other countries and will be put in place to fight international crime and terrorism. Full report on the News24 site