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Increased calls for social media, BBM regulation

Formal content regulation on social networks and messenger services like BlackBerry’s BBM is currently a topic of heated discussion around the world. Governments in disparate countries from the UK, Saudi Arabia, India, UAE to South Africa have been making noises about regulating the free-for-all on popular social media sites and tools.

On Monday South African deputy communications minister, Obed Bapela, called for new regulations that will allow police authority access messages sent via BlackBerry’s encrypted messenger service (BBM), reports Business Day.

Bapela said the government was now considering regulations following calls from the UK and Saudi Arabia for decryption of BlackBerry messages.

Speaking at Telkom’s Southern African Telecommunication Network and Application conference Bapela explained that policy would include provisions for government to be able to decrypt BBM communications “if crimes are committed using the BlackBerry service”.

The report further states that Bapela’s proposed legislation would be used only once a crime had been committed — and the permission of a magistrate would be required before accessing the data. However, Bapela states that South Africa has a “high threat of crime” which requires high priority.

Experts argue that South Africa already has legislation allowing this — the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA). Earlier this year millions of South Africans registered their SIM cards fearing disconnection. RICA allows government authorities to track a number that has been registered in the event that it is used to commit a crime.

The London riots led the UK government to enter into discussions about limiting access to social networks and messenger services such Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger service during times of unrest.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the “free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill… [perhaps] it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Regulations like these raise concerns about the erosion of one of the core tenants of modern democracies: Freedom of expression.

In the UK, RIM issued a statement saying, “We welcome the opportunity for consultation together with other companies in the technology and telecommunication industry. RIM continues to comply with both UK privacy laws as well as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which are of course the same laws that apply to other technology and telecommunications companies in the UK”.

Last year Saudi Arabia banned messenger functions on all BlackBerry devices claiming they posed security concerns. The United Arab Emirates also called for a ban of some BlackBerry services. The security concerns raised by both gulf states was because Blackberry handsets automatically send the encrypted data to computer servers outside the two countries, reports the BBC.

“It’s a huge mistake to go the Saudi Arabia route. It is hardly democratic. In the UK politicians don’t understand technology and the evidence presented against BBM was purely circumstantial. Just because 37 percent of the youth use BBM doesn’t justify or prove that it was used to incite violence. It is nonsensical to use these countries as examples and it completely trivialises crime,” says Arthur Goldstuck head of World Wide Worx research organisation, when asked to comment about the proposed South African legislation.

Goldstuck further states that, “the motive in Saudi Arabia was political and a freedom of speech issue. BBM is fully convered by RICA, and telecommunications operators are required to grant access to encrypted data following a court order when a crime is committed. This what the minster intends, however, he undermines this intention by targeting BBM specifically. Crimes are more likely to be committed using various communication services such as emails, SMSes and voice calls.”

RIM also last year allowed Indian security authorities to monitor Blackberry services after the authorities also expressed security concerns.

“We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,” said RIM’s India spokesman, Satchit Gayakwad.

“We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer’s need for privacy.”

Following the posting of a staged Facebook image of a white “hunter” kneeling over the apparently lifeless body of a black child, calls for regulation have become louder in South African government circles.

Author | Mich Atagana

Mich Atagana
Mich started out life wanting to be a theoretical physicist but soon realized that mathematics was required. So, she promptly let go of that dream. She then decided that law might be the best place for her talents, but with too many litigation classes missed in favour of feminist... More
  • I think its ridiculous to want to be able to get into private citizen messages. What are we in a 1948 Big Brother scenario. I am sure some people are capable of evil things and using normal things for evil purposes, but so is anything else. Why have any privacy at all?

    Why not put cameras in toilets while we at it, maybe thieves will find a way to plan there robberies in toilets. Why stop there also. Why not install cameras in every persons house to with microphones, they might pose a security risk too. 

    Please its ridiculous that we have rice too. Why not focus time and effort on helping people to think of themselves differently and maybe focus on working on the unemployment situation instead of trying to pry into our lives for whatever reason

  • “We have entered a moment in time where we have a global public commons of information through which citizens around the world can communnicate, but the free exchange of information is under siege. Without a global movement to protect the internet, the rights that we have fought so hard for offline, will be lost in our online future. ”

    Defend your Internet privacy and freedom of speech:  accessnow (dot) org – (global movement for digital freedom)

  • Mosimanegapedwin

    when are we going to have a nice private lives again beacuse whatever you do you know that some people are listening to what you are saying in the phone.
    emails are bein monitored. what a boring live,unemployment is high as we speak but the government spend lot of money on security than education and eradicating unemployment. ghetto madibogo

  • Anonymous

    There is one company today who has addressed concerns regarding privacy, anonymity, and cybercrime.  I suggest you google ONLYMEWORLD, the new alternative to Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, and Twitter.

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