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South African government apprehensive about BlackBerry encryption


Reports coming out of South Africa yesterday suggest the country’s government is apprehensive about BlackBerry services. The South African government is proposing allowing the police access to the BlackBerry encrypted messenger service supposedly in a bid to help catch criminals.

According to reports, the South African deputy communications minister, Obed Bapela, said the Blackberry messenger service (BBM) posed a security risk that the government needed to “address with urgency”. He added that there’s already evidence that the secure BBM was being used by criminals to commit crimes.

“We want to review BBM like in the UK and Saudi Arabia” said the deputy minister. He made the revelation at a Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference.


These reports are likely to cause more anxiety to governments like Zimbabwe that have been skeptic about authorizing the implementation of BlackBerry services on local networks without strict monitoring.

In March this year, after Econet showed some interest in launching BlackBerry services, an article in a state owned newspaper (The Herald) warned that a clash was looming with the government over the BBM encryption keys.  The article noted that Econet needed to clear BlackBerry services with the telecoms regulator and the government as the core system would be based outside the country and its data heavily encrypted.

Three months later, the paper reported that the telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, had “banned” Econet from launching the service until it’s licensed. The POTRAZ deputy director general, Alfred Marisa, was quoted in the article explaining that POTRAZ currently doesn’t have a ‘BlackBerry license’ as part of its statutes. To date, Econet has not been given the green light to launch the service.

Like South Africa, Zimbabwe has the Interception of Communications Act which provides for the monitoring of telecommunications traffic by the state.

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