Strict laws to control sale of cellular phones, sim cards

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cape Town - Government is to implement strict laws on the sale of cellular phones and sim cards to help curb serious crime in the country.

The Interception Amendment Act, which will be implemented on 1 July, aims to assist the law enforcement agencies in the investigation and combating of serious crime.

It also ensures that the identity and whereabouts of the owner of a sim card who used a cell phone in the planning and execution of a serious crime is known.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Jeff Radebe, said mobile cellular service providers MTN, Cell C, Vodacom and Neotel, will, from tomorrow, be prohibited from activating a new sim card unless they have captured the customer's details.

These details, he said, include the cellular phone number, the person's full name and surname, ID number, an address as well as verifying the personal information of the customer.

The minister assured South Africans that the Amendment Act was in no ways meant to pry on private persons, but rather on those criminals "who gave the country a bad name".

In terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act of 2002, certain information has to be obtained and kept by persons who sell cellular phones and sim cards through a paper-based registration process.

The Amendment of the Act 2008, mainly seeks to move away from the paper-based registration process to an electronic one.

The Amendment Act comes into effect tomorrow.

Section 3 of the Amendment Act, which deals with offences and penalties, comes into effect on 1 August.

In terms of the amended section, mobile cellular service providers must, with 18 months from tomorrow, 1 July, capture and verify the particulars of a person who is the owner of a sim card.

"If the particulars are not captured within that period, the service provider must terminate the service associated with the sim card," the minister said, adding that if service providers do not comply with the Act, they would face harsh penalties including fines and imprisonment.

For every day that a service provider is found not to be complying, they would be fined R100 000, the minister said.

"If any private person is found to be using the interception technology available, he or she could face a R2 million fine and if the company uses it without the authority of a judge they could face a R5 million fine," he said.

Cellular phone companies said that by law they were only allowed to provide such information with the judge's authority.

The Ministry said that there would be checks and balances in place to ensure compliance.

Service providers, MTN, Cell C and Vodacom, said they would conduct a consolidated marketing campaign by the industry to fully educate consumers about the Act.

Consumers can expect sms's, voicemail, as well as other marketing strategies in an attempt to fully educate them about the amendment and how they needed to comply with it.

The minister said the Act was necessitated by the fact that criminals make use of new technology to plan and execute crimes.

These amendments are in line with similar legislation that has recently been adopted by many other countries around the world.

Government had worked closely with the various service providers to ensure the successful implementation of it, the minister said.

Industry would carry the cost and consumers would not have to carry the burden of the implementation of the new Act.