Cell jam­mer set off in ‘ er­ror’, says Se­cu­rity min­is­ter

The Witness - Wheels - - NEWS - MARYNA LAM­PRECHT

CAPE TOWN — An “op­er­a­tional er­ror” had caused a cell­phone sig­nal scram­bler to be ac­ti­vated be­fore the State of the Na­tional ad­dress ( Sona) last week Thurs­day.

This is the state­ment is­sued yes­ter­day by Min­is­ter of State Se­cu­rity David Mahlobo.

He is­sued the state­ment only hours be­fore he was to de­fend the State Se­cu­rity Agency’s block­ing of cell­phone sig­nals at a me­dia con­fer­ence.

Amid strong crit­i­cism from in­tel­li­gence ex­perts that such an ac­tion is il­le­gal and that the agency had no place at the Sona in terms of the law, Mahlobo said he was also non­plussed when the scram­bling de­vice was ac­ti­vated.

There was no ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion to in­ter­fere with the free flow of in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the Sona, he said.

He blamed a ju­nior staff mem­ber for er­ro­neously ac­ti­vat­ing the scram­bling de­vice, which then blocked “cer­tain cell­phone users”.

This ju­nior scape­goat may face disci- plinary steps fol­low­ing a de­part­men­tal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mahlobo said.

He said his depart­ment re­gret­ted the un­in­tended in­ter­fer­ence with cell­phone sig­nals in parts of Par­lia­ment.

Mahlobo said the agency has a man­date to ap­ply this type of se­cu­rity mea­sure at large events where the pres­i­dent and deputy pres­i­dent are present.

He said the agency treated the Sona as a high- risk event, given sev­eral “un­known” events be­fore the ad­dress.

In­tel­li­gence ex­perts how­ever said the State Se­cu­rity Agency’s in­volve­ment in Par­lia­ment is to­tally il­le­gal, un­less the depart­ment can prove there were ex­tra­or­di­nary threat to na­tional se­cu­rity, such as ter­ror­ism or a planned coup at­tempt dur­ing the Sona.

Re­gard­less of whether the scram­bling de­vice was in­ad­ver­tently ac­ti­vated or not, it should never have been near Par­lia­ment, the ex­perts said.

They added as the min­is­ter can­not prove there was a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity, crim­i­nal charges should be laid against who­ever gave the or­der to al­low the agency in Par­lia­ment.

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