Internet service providers (ISPs) are up in arms over the provisions of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (Rica), the legislation that requires consumers to provide telecommunications service providers with copies of their IDs and proof of residence.
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa), an industry body, says many of the provisions of the act are “impractical, perhaps even impossible for ISPs to implement”.
Rica is meant to help police fight crime by making it easier to track down criminals who use communications networks to plan their misdeeds.
“We remain concerned about the obligations Rica places on our members in terms of customer registration and verification,” says Ispa regulatory adviser, Dominic Cull (pictured).
Cull says it is “unfortunate” that the department of justice, which developed the legislation, “continues to insist that licensees acting as Internet access providers personally verify the documents which their customers are required to submit before a service can be activated”.
“Ispa has previously written to the department to explain the challenges this requirement will pose for our members, particularly those who do not have a national retail presence,” he says.
“The primary difficulty with the obligation is that Internet access providers are generally online businesses in the sense that they sign up customers and maintain customer relationships online.”
Cull draws a distinction between the requirements placed on mobile cellular providers who have a pervasive national retail presence and small and niche Internet access providers who do not.
“Notwithstanding this national presence and the vast amounts of money which the mobile providers are throwing at Rica registration, it seems clear that this is being done at a massive cost to those providers and there are indications that the exercise will not be completed within the 18-month deadline set by Rica.
“If the mobile providers are struggling to comply with personal verification then it follows that personal verification will be close to impossible for ISPs to comply with. Most of our members have a purely online relationship with their customers since they do not provide a physical component of their service such as a Sim card.”
Cull says the department of justice is taking a number of steps to accommodate the concerns Ispa has expressed about Rica’s customer registration and verification process. “Ispa acknowledges, in particular, the amendments to section 39 of Rica that will allow ISPs to use agents to verify customer documents.
“Though this represents a step in the right direction it remains Ispa’s view that the imposition of a personal verification obligation will have a chilling effect on Internet access and competition in SA,” says Cull.
Ispa’s previous submissions to the department have highlighted the fact that South Africa has, under the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002, created a framework for the authentication of documents in electronic format. “SA law clearly provides for verification of documents in electronic format and Ispa is not sure why this framework is not being used for customer registration under Rica,” he says. — Staff reporter, TechCentral