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SIM proliferation slammed as ‘reckless business practice’

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 28 Sept 2023
The RICA Act requires the details of all telecommunication users to be registered.
The RICA Act requires the details of all telecommunication users to be registered.

The issue of the proliferation of SIM cards in the country was raised in Parliament yesterday, with some parliamentarians questioning the enforcement of the law that governs access to SIMs.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) yesterday briefed the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) public enterprises and communication committee on the impact of ICASA’s “historic” spectrum auction in reducing the cost to communicate.

During the session, the topic of SIM card proliferation was discussed.

South Africa’s Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act 70 of 2002 (RICA) requires the details of all telecommunication users to be registered. It also aims to assist law enforcement agencies to track criminals using telecoms services for illegal activities.

However, the law does not apply a limit to the number of SIM cards that a person can activate.

The Act has been in the news recently, as damning evidence presented at the ongoing high-profile murder trial of former Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa revealed some of the SIM cards allegedly used by the suspects were not properly registered in compliance with RICA.

Elsewhere, the Act’s might has also been questioned, amid escalating SIM swap fraud, with criminals posing as legitimate cellphone account-holders by using fake identity documents.According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric), in 2021, SIM-swap fraud increased by 91%, year-over-year.

Democratic Alliance and NCOP member Mlindi Nhanha said there is a growing practice of selling SIM cards for as little as R1. Nhanha questioned the impact of this practice, insofar as the enforcement of the RICA law is concerned.

“At first, a person could buy a SIM card for R29; it then went down to R1 for a SIM card,” he commented. “Some of the network providers these days are actually issuing SIM cards for free, with R5 or R10 airtime on it.

“South Africans are taking advantage of the situation. For example, every time I meet people handing out SIM cards, I simply take it, use the free airtime provided and chuck it away. Mind you, that SIM card has now been RICA’d under my name. From my standpoint, this is a reckless business practice.

“We’ve got a RICA law in the country that is supposed to be followed to the letter and here are service providers issuing [SIMs] willy-nilly and those SIM cards are registered under people’s names.”

ICASA councillor Peter Zimri acknowledged increased access to SIM cards has been identified as a problem. “Last week, we met with the Department of Justice − the custodian of the RICA law − and we are looking at a joint effort to ensure these ‘RICA’d or plastic roaming’ SIM cards are not abused and not being distributed as freely as is happening.

“From the ICASA side, we got to a point where we requested operators not to include numbers sold with these SIM cards − that is, to sell them numberless. This is so that the RICA process happens with someone that is present at the time, so they are positively identified.

“We also amended our numbering plan regulation to ensure we can positively identify individuals or owners of these SIM cards. We’ve also met with the banking sector, because there are a lot of issues within the sector concerning SIM cards that have been ported and RICA’d that can’t be traced. We’ve also engaged with Sabric to ensure we discuss these things going forward.

“In terms of the RICA law, with the Department of Justice, we are busy coordinating meetings to discuss how we ensure the law is implemented as effectively as possible. ICASA has a certain mandate and the Department of Justice also has its own mandate in terms of the law.

“We, therefore, need to do some ‘handshaking’ on some of the activities and have a joint coordination on these RICA’d SIM cards, which we believe has become a massive problem within the South African context.”

ICASA councillor Peter Zimri.
ICASA councillor Peter Zimri.

Meanwhile, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services has called on all stakeholders and interested parties for written comment on the RICA Amendment Bill.

According to committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe, the purpose of the RICA Amendment Bill is to amend the RICA Act, 2002, so as to insert certain definitions to provide for the designation of an independent judge, to provide for the designation of an independent review judge, to provide for the powers and functions of the review judge and to provide for the tenure of designated and review judges.

“It further aims to provide for adequate safeguards where the subject of surveillance is a journalist or practising lawyer, to provide for post-surveillance notification, to provide for adequate safeguards to address the fact that interception directions are sought and obtained ex parte, and to provide for adequate procedures to ensure data obtained pursuant to the interception of communications is managed lawfully and not used or interfered with unlawfully.

“The Bill seeks to provide for procedures to be followed for processing, examining, copying, sharing, disclosing, sorting through, using, storing or destroying of any data, and to provide for principles for the safeguarding of data when dealing with the management of data.”

Submissions must be received by no later than 6 October, and must be e-mailed to Copies of the Bill may be obtained here.

Enquiries must be directed to V Ramaano on 083 709 8427.