...By Larry John for TDPel Media.
The South African Police Services (SAPS) have received permission to lawfully employ cellphone spying tools and trackers for investigative purposes.
Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola gazetted a five-year exemption from the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (RICA) on Friday, 19 May 2023.
Expanded Surveillance Capabilities for Police
The exemption effectively grants the police the authority to utilize various surveillance devices that would otherwise be deemed illegal.
This development marks a departure from previous Justice ministers consistently withholding approval for such tools.
Access to Cellphone Data through Surveillance Devices
With the new exemption in place, the South African Police Service can acquire and employ signal interception devices to obtain information about any cellular device within a specified area.
Among the authorized tools are International Mobile Subscriber Identifier (IMSI) catchers, also known as “grabbers,” which act as covert cellular towers, collecting data from all connected mobile devices.
Mapping Data to Personal Identities
By utilizing these surveillance methods, the police will be able to correlate the gathered data with individual identities.
This is possible because RICA mandates that telecommunication service providers collect identifying information during the registration process.
Wide Range of Surveillance Devices
In addition to IMSI catchers, the SAPS may utilize hardware keystroke recorders, night vision and thermal imaging equipment, wiretaps, eavesdropping microphones, miniature video and audio recorders, and location tracking devices.
Extension Granted by Minister Ronald Lamola
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola granted the extension in accordance with Section 46(3) of RICA.
This provision empowers the Justice Minister to exempt internet service providers, telecommunications service providers, and law enforcement agencies from specific prohibitions regarding the manufacture, possession, and use of the mentioned surveillance equipment.
The exemption requires consultation with other relevant ministers.