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What is RICA and why do we have to register our cellphones?

sim
(Image credit: William_Potter)

Every South African buying a SIM card these days automatically knows they have to go through the process of RICA-ing it before getting on with their lives. 

Although still a relatively new process, the habit has formed and the reasons behind this annoying system are mostly forgotten. 

So if you're interested in knowing why you can't just pick up a SIM card and be on your way, here is a little background on RICA.

It's all an Act 

RICA stands for Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act.

It was introduced by government in 2009 and claims to help prevent criminals from using cellphones for illegal activities.

The government argues that having a register of people's details linked to the SIM cards they own means criminals will be better tracked through their cellphones.

Privacy and data collection issues 

As the digital age has progressed, concerns around data protection and privacy have increased. As a result, the idea of any government or company having a massive database of personal information with only some idea of what it is used for has become uncomfortable. 

Police are only meant to access this information when a warrant is granted by a judge. Parliament’s intelligence committee is supposed to release public oversight reports to make it clearer how often this has been done. 

However, there have been arguments that even these reports aren't transparent enough. 

Most recently, the High Court in Pretoria recently ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional. This was found in 2019, after a journalist from amaBhungane, discovered that he was being spied on during the “Zuma Spy Tapes” saga.

The court gave parliament two years to amend the act to adhere to the Constitution. It is still to be seen how this plays out. 

Leila Stein

Leila Stein is an experienced multimedia journalist and content producer with a special interest in data journalism. she is skilled in news writing, editing, online writing and multimedia content production and have a Bachelor of Journalism  from Rhodes University and an Honours in Historical Studies from University of Cape Town.