The Regulation of Interception of Communications & Provision of Communications of Communications-related Information Act (RICA) is set to kick in this year – but cellular network operators are not likely to be ready for its implementation.
This is according to Yanesh Ramiah, MD of Swist Tech, who says the RICA law establishes the ground rules for who may intercept communications and under what circumstances.
While much of the act is uncontroversial, in that most people accept that law enforcement agencies should be able to listen in on the conversations of criminals if they have authorisation from a judge, controversy comes in with the requirement that communications operators ensure that government agencies have access to
the information they need.
In particular, within the next 18 months or so cellphone operators will have to record the name, ID number and address of the owner of every cellphone SIM card in the country, Ramiah points out.
And this will be no easy task, he says, considering about 75% of the estimated 42-million SIM cards in circulation are prepaid, with no information gathered at the point of sale.
"The cellphone network operators may be the ones who need to keep the information, but the problem of collecting it affects a far broader swathe of this country's business community," Ramiah says. "SIM cards are for sale everywhere from your local corner shop to large supermarkets and specialist cellphone shops, which makes them the logical place to try and collect the required names, surnames, certified copies of ID documents and proof of residence.
"This means an additional burden on retailers, even though they are not the ones targeted by the legislation."
Retails will also have to find ways to communicate the information to network providers, while keeping it confidential and secure.
"Now that movement is starting to happen, it is vital that communications operators, retailers and everyone else involved get together to establish how they are going to work together," Ramiah urges. "The current pattern of isolated initiatives can only end in disaster.
"What the industry needs is a forum where mobile industry players can come together with retailers, wholesalers, government departments and technology partners to work out a framework and standards for the systems that RICA will require."