RICA is the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act. The customer registration section of the RICA, as set out by the South African Government requires everyone who has an active cellphone number or purchases a new Prepaid Starter Pack, to register their SIM cards from 1 July 2009.
Now there is nothing wrong with this act as its aim is to help law enforcement agencies to track criminals using cellphones for illegal activities, thereby contributing to make South Africa safer for everyone. What I wonder is, why is this only being implemented now? Something of this nature should have been done when the cellular network operators were setting up in South Africa.
What I find to be even more interesting about RICA is how it will apply to foreigners in South Africa. Take for example a visitor coming from Germany for the World Cup in 2010. He needs a SIM card so he can stay in touch whilst he is in South Africa. Now RICA requires one to produce some form of identification. Now the visitor from Germany will have his or her passport which is fine. Now the second requirement for RICA is to produce proof of residence. Now where does a visitor to South Africa get proof of residence from? They are only visiting. So does this mean that they can not purchase a SIM card in South Africa?
So I went to task yesterday to test this out. I wanted to purchase a new SIM card. So I told them that I am a foreigner visiting South Africa so I do not have proof of residence. The sales person was now confused. They did not know how to handle this situation. He insisted I produce proof of residence which I do not have. He then went to the back to ask his superior and he came back and said it is not possible to make the purchase. So I left and went to another shop and guess what, same response. Then a third shop… Same response.
So to sum it up, I was not able to purchase a SIM card as a foreigner from a shop which is emphasising on RICA. I knew if I really wanted a SIM card I could just go to the vendors on the street and they would sell me one. So I tried that and I easily got a SIM card and did not have to produce any form of ID or proof of residence.
Now besides foreigners, how are they going to get every South African with a SIM card to register for RICA? RICA started on 1 July 2009 and I wonder how many people who already have SIM cards have willingly gone to register for RICA. I guess not many. If the said something like, “If you do not register for RICA by 31 December 2009, we will cut off your line.” I am sure that would get people running to register with RICA.