By 3 August 2009 | Categories: feature articles

Rica: What you need to know

According to government the Act was created, “to make South Africa a safer place, as the law aims to help law enforcement agencies to identify the users of cellphone numbers and track criminals using cellphones for illegal activities.” Under Rica both prepaid and contract costumers have, starting 1 July 2009, 18 months to register already existing SIM cards. If you fail to do so the SIM card will be disconnected from service until it is ­registered. All new SIM cards bought will also need to be ­registered before they become active.

So here is what you need to register a SIM:

  • Your cellphone number (obviously)
  • One of the following documents: Green barcoded ID, ID card, temporary ID certificate, or passport (driver license not accepted)
  • Your physical address, for which you need any document that includes your name and residential address, such as: a bank statement, municipal rates, cellphone or retail ­account, existing lease, rental or credit agreement, ­insurance policy, current TV license or motor vehicle license.
  • If you live in an informal settlement you can provide an ­official letter and/or affidavit from a school, church or retail store where you receive your post.

The registration of new SIM cards is the responsibility of the cellular operators, so you can register your SIM at your service provider’s nearest outlet or store. Similarly, if you buy a 99c SIM starter pack, it is up to the cellular operators to register you there on the spot, all you have to do is provide the boxes of documentation required to complete the process. But, as anyone, like us, who has recently bought a SIM card at Pick n Pay might know, the capacity is not yet there to do this. ­Having an unregistered SIM does not make you a criminal though, but when 1 January 2011 rolls over you might just find yourself without service.

While you will not be committing a crime if you have an ­unregistered SIM, this is not necessarily the case if you sell or give away your SIM card or phone, or if its lost, stolen or ­destroyed. When selling or giving away your phone or SIM card, you must get the new owner’s full name, ID number, ­address, as well a certified copy of their ID which you must keep. It’s also up to you to verify if all the info the person gave you is correct according to his/ her ID. As if this wasn’t enough, you also need to keep records of the cellular ­telephone number or any other number allocated to the other person, and the number of the cellphone. If you don’t, you’re liable to a fine not exceeding R2 000 000 or to imprisonment for a period not ­exceeding ten years.

When your phone or SIM card is lost, stolen or destroyed, you must report it to the police, and the police officer ­concerned must issue written proof that the report has been made or give you an official reference number. Failure to do so can mean a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.

More trouble than it’s worth?

In the weeks since the SIM card registration stipulations of Rica came into force, a variety of concerns have been raised. The ­capacity of service providers to register the almost 50 ­million SIM cards currently in use in the country within 18 months, not the least of these.

The fact that the Act places the onus on service providers to register SIM card owners means that much of the legal ­responsibility and costs fall on them. ­Vodacom Group CEO, Pieter Uys, places the cost to ­Vodacom of registering SIM ­owners between R10 and R30 million, as reported by The other issue is the cost to consumers. For a person living in a rural area or informal location the hassle and cost of having to travel to a service provider’s outlet to register a SIM card will be far greater than the 99c cost of buying a SIM in the first place. Many people also buy new SIM starter packs, with the free extras, instead of recharging the SIM they have.

Apart form the costs associated with the implementation of the Act, the usefulness of the Act in assisting law enforcement in tracking criminals is questionable. Has government not ­considered the fact that criminals will simply use a false ID to register a SIM card, seeing that identify fraud is after all a major problem in the country? The opportunity for individuals to register their address as a church, school or even retail store also dilutes the effectiveness of the legislation, after all a retail store is hardly a fixed address.

The process of reporting the loss, theft or destruction of ­cellular phone or SIM card (which is not unlike reporting the loss or theft of a firearm) will also place strain on the police. In terms of a cost-benefits analysis of the Act, would this not bog police officers down in even more admin? The fact that failure to report loss, theft or destruction is a criminal offense in itself further complicates the situation and could criminalise ­generally law abiding citizens.

Privacy is another concern we face with such a law. While the whole point of the act is to regulate under what ­circumstances communications can be intercepted, it doesn’t make provision for citizens to report violations of the Act. ­Further the Act does leave police officers some room to ­bypass due process (receiving written permission from a judge) when looking to intercept communication. Basically it is legal for a police officer to direct the interception of ­communications by service providers if their intention is to prevent bodily harm. There are however checks in place to ­ensure that officers don’t abuse the law.
Beyond making it less appealing for criminals to steal ­prepaid cellphones/ SIMs, the Act looks set to create more work and cost more money than it may be worth. The aim of the Act might be noble, but we seriously question its actual effectiveness. [TM & MJ]


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