'Major' RICA threat identified

Nicola Mawson
By Nicola Mawson, Contributor.
Johannesburg, 27 May 2010

At least half a million South Africans do not have ID books, after failing to collect them from the Department of Home Affairs' offices.

This means they cannot comply with the SIM card registration law.

Thousands more may also be unable to comply with the law as many South Africans do not even appear on the population register, and home affairs has no idea how large that number is.

The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) requires all South Africans with cellphones to have SIM cards registered, or face being cut off from the network at the end of the year.

Cellular operators have already reported slower subscriber growth as a result of the law. However, it is unclear how many people will be cut off from the network and cease to be a source of revenue for the companies at deadline time.

The fact that so many South Africans do not have a green bar-coded identity document is a cause for concern, and could undermine the security aspects of the law, says an analyst. Among the reasons for the introduction of RICA was the need to cut down on crime facilitated by criminals making calls from untraceable numbers.

The Department of Home Affairs' deputy director-general for civic services, Vusi Mkhize, could not comment this morning on how many South Africans do not have identity documents.

However, he says the department has embarked on a nationwide drive to register all the citizens who currently do not possess proper identification papers.

Large gap

Home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told a Parliament media briefing on 18 March that a number of South Africans were not registered with the department and are without proper documentation.

However, the minister had no idea how many South Africans are not even on the population register. She noted: “There was evidence that showed that a large number of people were not registered on the system. It was clear that there were thousands of people in SA who were not registered.”

The department was, however, endeavouring to update the population register. This would then allow it to provide more accurate information as to how many citizens SA has, Dlamini-Zuma added.

According to Statistics SA, there are currently 49 million South Africans, of which 28.6 million are over the age of 20. Theoretically, these people should be in possession of an ID book, as citizens can apply once they reach 16.

No ID, no registration

In February, half a million ID books were lying around departmental offices waiting to be collected. Out of a total of 524 618 uncollected IDs, 111 395 were in KwaZulu-Natal, 92 410 in Gauteng and 89 284 in the Eastern Cape.

These documents had been sitting at home affairs offices waiting to be collected, Dlamini-Zuma said.

MTN South Africa says it is required by law to ensure customers provide their original identification documents, such as an ID, when registering their SIM cards.

“If a customer does not have the necessary identification documents, MTN would advise these customers to obtain these documents from the applicable government department as quickly as possible, in order to be registered successfully,” Africa's largest cellular operator says.

MTN has so far registered 5.5 million prepaid SIM cards out of its base of 13 million prepaid subscribers. Prepaid SIMs are harder to register, as these generally belong to people with no fixed abode.

Vodacom says it has experienced issues with people wanting to register their cards without an ID book. However, the company has found there are more customers who have challenges complying with proof of residence documentation, than complying with providing a green bar-coded ID.

Vodacom SA MD Shameel Joosub says the company has more than 110 000 RICA agents across SA, especially in rural areas, to assist registration of cards. So far, it has verified just over 50% of its 26.3 million customers.

All SIM cards, including those used for data, must be registered. Parents can register cards belonging to their minor children, but still need to provide a green bar-coded ID or temporary ID certificate, or a passport as well as proof of address.

People coming into SA as refugees or seeking asylum will need to use those documents as proof of identity.


“The fact that many people don't have an ID is a key risk for the success of RICA,” says Frost & Sullivan ICT industry analyst Spiwe Chireka.

She explains that people could try to find a way around the legislation and ask their friends to register their SIM card on their behalf, and in their name. This will lead to subscribers not being properly registered, she notes.

Chireka says this almost defeats the purpose of complying with RICA from a security point of view. “When people are put in a corner, they find ways to get around the system.”

Government may have to look at the possibility of capping the amount of numbers any one person can have in order to avoid this situation, she says. According to Chireka, the lack of IDs will be a major risk when the deadline rolls around at the end of the year.