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South Africa Legalizes Citizen Cell Phone Surveillance

The South African Minister of Justice, announced  a five-year exemption from the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (RICA).

This effectively gives police the right to use a range of what would otherwise be illegal surveillance devices.

The exemption means the South African Police Service can buy and use signal interception devices to access details about any cellular device in a given area, approval for which previous Justice ministers consistently withheld.

Among these are International Mobile Subscriber Identifier (IMSI) catchers, or “grabbers” — eavesdropping devices masquerading as regular cellular towers that harvest data from every mobile device connected to them.

In simple terms, the police will be able to map the data gathered in this way to a person’s identity, as RICA requires telecommunications service providers to collect identifying information when you sign up.

In addition, the SAPS may use hardware keystroke recorders, night vision and thermal imaging equipment, wiretaps, eavesdropping microphones, miniature video and audio recorders, and location tracking devices.

Minister Ronald Lamola granted the extension in terms of Section 46(3) of RICA. It essentially gives the Justice Minister the right to exempt Internet service providers, telecommunications service providers, and law enforcement agencies from specific prohibitions, including the manufacture, possession, and use of the equipment listed above.

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