SA JOURNALISTS SPIED ON, SCCOM ASSURES PRIVACY
… says it is only a court order that a subscriber’s information can be disclosed to a third party
THE Swaziland Communications Commission (SCCOM) has assured local journalists and the general public that the registration of all mobile subscribers in the country will not compromise their privacy.
This comes after a South African advocacy group Right2Know (R2K) called for an end to SIM card registration after it emerged that journalists in that country were spied on by the state security agency through the Regulation of Interception Communication Act (RICA), which is similar to the local ongoing VELA SIM card registration, initiated by the regulatory body.
When quizzed on the guarantee that local journalists have to privacy and not being spied on, SCCOM said the commission cemented the protection of consumers through a clause on confidentiality of customer information in the terms and conditions of the licenses issued by the commission to operators.
The clause provides that the licensee shall not, under any circumstances whatsoever, disclose any information about a customer to any third party except to the extent that such information is required in compliance with a court order or an applicable statutory obligation.
“This is the only exception allowed in law globally with regard to customer information and unless the customer concerned agrees in writing that such information be released. Further, the licence conditions make it an obligation for licensees to develop and implement a policy to ensure the safety and security of customer information at all material times.
In essence therefore, the commission’s position, which as stated above has been translated into licence terms, is that information about a customer may only be lawfully obtained through a court order or under a statutory provision or upon express authorisation by that customer,” said SCCOM.
The commission said the scope of their mandate does not segregate according to specific professions, but is universal and covers all citizens.
Section 7(c) enjoins the commission to ensure end-user protection and privacy.
The Subscriber Registration Regulation provides a framework for the registration of all mobile subscribers in the country and the protection of the subscriber information collected.
According to the commission, this is contained in the regulations under part V1, entitled; data protection and confidentiality and consumer awareness which provides that a licensee shall take all reasonable precautions to preserve the integrity and prevent any corruption, loss or unauthorised disclosure of subscriber information retained and shall take steps to restrict unauthorized use of subscriber information.
The commission added that any information acquired outside this legal threshold would be in violation of the customer’s right to privacy and any licensee found to have disclosed such information would be in breach of these conditions and shall be liable to a punitive fine meted by the commission.
In its report, R2K revealed that several journalists who have exposed corruption have been targeted in the neighboring country and even though RICA was introduced as a crime-fighting measure, the group said there was no convincing evidence that this had improved the government's crime-fighting capacity.
“Let's remember that everyone has the right to privacy. Nobody's communication should ever be spied on unless they are facing a legitimate investigation for serious criminal activity. But journalists' communications are especially sensitive,” the group said.