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Vodacom voices reservations over ‘interception’ Bill

Cellphone operator Vodacom criticised draft interception legislation on Thursday for placing an onerous and expensive burden on the industry and clients.

”This proposed Act needs more careful thought in terms of its unintended consequences before becoming law,” Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig said in a statement.

The proposed law requires 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.

Such facilities would cost the industry hundreds of millions of rands, said Knott-Craig.

”And although Vodacom is willing to bear this cost if the law requires it, it is practically impossible to obtain the names, addresses and ID numbers of all prepaid customers and to verify this information.”

The legislation requires of operators to cut service to clients using their networks, but whose information they failed to obtain within a 12-month grace period.

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.

These people depended on their prepaid phones to find work and remain in contact with their families.

”Depriving them of the ability to communicate via cellular telephony is to once more condemn them to the world of the ‘absolutely have-nots’.”

According to Knott-Craig, 15-million South Africans had no ID documents and about the same number had no street addresses, making the task at hand a mammoth one.

The new requirements would be onerous for clients who might need to travel long distances to become registered, he added.

”It is highly unlikely that the registration of prepaid cellphone customers will bring down the crime rate as it is easy for criminals to get a SIM card from a neighbouring country, commit the crime and throw away the phone without ever registering it.”

Under the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Amendment Bill, cellphone service providers who fail to keep data on their clients could be fined up to R100 000 for each day of non-compliance.

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. — Sapa

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