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August 17, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Mirrored meHoly Gaucamole! As I was hyperventilating over news that the most surveilled people on Earth (that would be the Brits) are now to suffer the possibility of CCTV cams in private homes, I completely missed news from South Africa.

Thank goodness I have alert readers. Prophet Kangnamgu let me know about what’s going on in South Africa. Yeegads! Is there no end to the surveilling, the snooping, the tracking that’s going on in contemporary society?

South African readers – you might wish to reconsider having a cell or mobile phone. Legislators over there have introduced a new law, which requires all cell phones with SIM cards to be registered from July 1, 2009.  Trotting out the usual drivel of combating crime, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Amendment Act (or RICA), requires service providers to capture the following data before activating a SIM card:

  • cell phone number
  • full name of cell phone owner and address
  • South African identity number
  • whether on contract or pre-paid

Customers will have 18 months from implementation date to register both their pre-paid and contract SIM cards. Cell phone service providers will need to verify all this information by checking an electricity or water bill for example.  So the idea is that the  identity and whereabouts of the owner of a SIM card who uses a cell phone in planning and executing a serious crime is known by law enforcement authorities. Yep, I’m sure now this new Act is in effect, criminals will be burning up the cell phones lines planning their illegal business! Most likely, they’ll all flee to Skype.

So what I hear you say? And before some of you pounce on me, I have family who live in Johannesburg, so have been there and yes, I know that crime is prevalent.  Possibly tracking cell phones is therefore a good idea.

But then possibly it’s just part of what I’ve always been saying – a little bit more of our privacy being eroded.  More Government snooping intruding into our daily lives and tracking our movements – all because some people in society commit crimes.

Cell phone service providers will have comprehensive information about a phone owner. Let’s hope they know how to keep data secured in a central database and that staff don’t misuse said private information. Will the service providers sell the information for targeted advertising?  Will only one SIM card registration be allowed per citizen ID? The big question I think is – will criminals obligingly register giving their real names and place of residence?? What’s to stop clever crims from swapping SIM cards?

All South Africans have to go and register in person and if someone has a temporary residence, they register their address as their local school or church.  I can see it now: police tracking a criminal via the local church. How ridiculous.

And then there’s a little something known as the Bill of Rights. Section 14 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution of 1996 states:  “everyone has a right to privacy, which includes the right not to have…..the privacy of their communications infringed”.

I’d also question whether all South Africans who have cell phones actually have a residence with electricity or water  – to prove their residential address for RICA registration. I know my sister-in-law’s servants (who live in her house but sometimes return to their home) basically have a hut with no water or electricity. But they do have a cell phone because it’s the way they keep in touch with their family.

And how will visitors to South Africa, like me, roam the network? For my next visit, should I stuff my suitcase full of utility bills and rate notices to prove my residential address should I wish to purchase a pre-paid SIM card? And should I whip into a public phone booth, should I leave a note behind with all my private details for police dudes?

Seems to me like crime prevention is being used as a cover-up for intercepting communications and monitoring citizens’ movements.  Next up, we’ll all have to register our iPods! Anyone know anything more?

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Entry filed under: Privacy, surveillance, Surveillance society. Tags: , , , , .

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