Snooping Bill thrown out

Snooping Bill thrown out

MASERU – PARLIAMENT has thrown out a controversial new law that would have allowed telecommunications companies and state security agents to monitor people’s mobile phones.
The Portfolio Committee on Prime Minister’s Ministries said the Ministry of Communications had rushed to take the Subscriber Identity Module and Mobile Device Registration Regulations of 2021 to parliament without the input of stakeholders.

The committee said former Communications Minister Keketso Sello should have consulted the public “to ensure that all stakeholders’ inputs are included in the Subordinate Law”.
Lehloka Hlalele, the chairman of the committee, told parliament that “the systems testing and readiness ensuring that the central database is envisaged has not been thoroughly considered”.
Hlalele also said “consideration of vulnerable population, informal traders and people with disabilities have not been carefully primed”.
“(The) timeframe for registration of SIM and other processes should be reviewed,” he said.

The Bill sought to make it a requirement for people using mobile phones in Lesotho to have their personal information banked with the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) and accessed by security agencies without their consent.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa – Lesotho Chapter criticised the Bill, saying it was “in direct violation of (people’s) privacy and freedom of expression rights”.

The regulations would have allowed the establishment and maintenance of a database of personal information of all telecommunication subscribers in Lesotho and have it stored in a Central Database held by the LCA on behalf of the government of Lesotho.
Mobile device subscribers were to have their biometrics and other personal information captured, registered and transmitted to the central database at the time they acquire mobile devices, as well as when they activate their sim cards.

The proposed regulations would force telecommunications service providers such as Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho to transmit all captured information of their customers to the central database at the LCA.
Security agencies such as the police, National Security Service and the intelligence arm of the army would no longer need court orders to access the private and personal information of subscribers.
The proposed law provided that security agencies would simply need authorisation from a senior officer equal to the rank of assistant commissioner of police to have access to the private information of every subscriber.

“The regulations do not spare international diplomats and expatriates, whether using local networks or roaming, from having their private information accessed,” MISA-Lesotho said.
MISA-Lesotho also argued that the regulations were in breach of Section 11 of the Constitution of Lesotho (1993), which states that every person shall be entitled to respect for his private and family life and his home.
The parliamentary portfolio committee called the Ministry of Communications to explain itself and to provide the necessary information pertaining to the policy context, financial implications, contents and effects of the regulations.

The committee also invited views from Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Telecom Lesotho.
The Ministry stated that the regulations were intended curb criminal activities perpetrated with the use of mobile devices and SIM cards.
It also told the committee that the regulations were meant to control the proliferation of counterfeit devices in the market and to establish a Central Database where the licensees will be required to transmit all the subscribers’ information.

The ministry said it wanted to impose legal obligations on licensees to register the subscribers, stimulate the requirements for registrations of different categories of subscribers and to curb threats to national security and the harassment of other users of mobile network systems.
The committee resolved to block the Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Mobile Device Registration) Regulations, 2021 for the Minister to reassess the regulations, Hlalele told parliament.

Staff Reporter

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