SA government ‘clarifies’ position on monitoring BlackBerry Messenger

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Recent reports that South Africa’s government was looking to regulate the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service were greeted with dismay and anger.

In a recent speech, South African Deputy-Communications minister, Obed Bapela, called for called for new regulations that would allow police and intelligence authorities to access messages sent via BBM.

Following heated reactions and international news reports on the matter, Bapela’s boss, Communications minister Radhakrishna Roy Padayachie, has issued a “clarifying statement” saying that, “government has no intention to regulate or legislate against Blackberry Encryption messenger service”.

The statement also noted, however, that government was still drafting a policy statement that “will review current regulatory and legislative instruments with respect to cyber-space matters”.

Minister Padayachie also welcomed, “the willingness of Research in Motion(RIM) [BlackBerry's parent company] to work closely with government to prevent the abuse of the encrypted messenger services by criminals for unlawful purposes”.

Minister Padayachie also referred to the Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe who, in a press briefing, said that the government had made no decisions in terms of BlackBerry and that, “anything about BlackBerry is premature”, according to South African newspaper the Business Day.

This seemingly swift step back from Bapela’s initial statement mirrors recent events in the UK.

After a series of riots which rocked the nation, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a possible social media ban in times of civil unrest.

This proposal saw a strongly negative response from the public and free speech advocates alike.

When the UK government met with officials from Facebook, Twitter, and RIM, two weeks later it had shifted its position somewhat. It’s new plan was that social networks should be used to broadcast information to law-abiding citizens and track down those breaking the law.

Not all nations who have called for the monitoring of BBM, however, have bowed to public pressure.

Saudi Arabia, claiming that the service posed a security risk, followed through with its call and banned BBM last year.

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