Legal View

Cell user registration date withdrawn

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President Thabo Mbeki has signed a proclamation withdrawing the implementation dates for the registration of cellphone users by the network operators, as the law has not been finalised by parliament.

In terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA), cellular network operators were supposed to begin registering some 33 million cellphone users, beginning 30 June.

However, the law is being amended by parliament to allow the registration process to change from the originally required paper-based registration process to an electronic system.

Sarel Robbertse, state law advisor with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, says there was also a requirement by the law enforcement agencies for a central database of cellphone users to be created to help fight handset theft and other crimes linked to the devices.

"Parliament will continue to debate the Act in August (after the current parliamentary recess) and it can either declare a new implementation date in the amended law, or it could be done again by presidential proclamation," he says.

The president originally signed the proclamation on 24 June, and it was published in the Government Gazette on 27 June.

The two RICA sections affected are 40 and 62(6). The first deals with the registration of new users and the second deals with the registration of users already on the networks.

Fatima Chohan-Koti (ANC), chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio on Justice and Constitutional Development, requested the withdrawal of the original proclamation two weeks ago when she realised that, during the last session, the committee would not be able to finish the amendments.

"This request was done to avert a possible crisis that could have arisen," she told ITWeb at the time.

Heavy penalties

In terms of RICA, the network operators could have faced penalties of up to R100 000 per day for not beginning the registration of their pre- and post-paid subscribers from the effective dates.

The network operators, in their submissions to parliament, complained about the heavy logistics burden that would have been placed on them should they have only 12 months to register all their users.

Vodacom said it would have to register 9 000 subscribers an hour over the period, MTN indicated it would have to process 8 000 per day, and Cell C talked about 250 000 subscribers per month. The network operators also argued they wanted a three-year period from date of implementation to complete the registration.

Alan Knott-Craig, Vodacom Group CEO, says: "While we have not received this information, if it is correct then we welcome the opportunity to jointly explore more workable solutions to assist law enforcement agencies in their combat against crime."

Knott-Craig and Vodacom, in its parliamentary submissions, argued RICA will also impact on job creation in the informal sector, which employs some 28 000 people selling pre-paid SIM cards.

Karabo Motlane, head of regulatory affairs at Cell C, says: "The withdrawal of the effective dates is good news as parliament still has to work out exactly what information is required."

Related stories:
The burden of cellphone registration
Electronic eavesdropping under stricter control
MPs remain firm on RICA cell deadline
Operators seek RICA deadline extension
Vodacom`s position on subscriber registration
New laws pose challenges for mobile operators
Cryptography regulations published
Million-rand bill for ISPs
Interception Act now in effect

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