Local regulation on cyber crime and telecoms services infringement is rather lax. Or at least that’s the impression we’re getting from the concerns raised by Telecel to the state legislature.
It has been reported that Telecel says their network is being prejudiced of millions of dollars worth of revenue by individuals engaged in traffic refilling. This involves using devices to take traffic from international calls outside the country, bringing it to Zimbabwe and then transferring it to a local network so that it appears as a local call.
Last month the Chronicle ran an article about an individual from Bulawayo identified as Velaphi Hlabangani who was arrested for the same offence. He was charged with operating an IP-PBX system without a licence in violation of the Post and Telecommunications Act and fined a mere $400. It was never determined how much the networks had been defrauded from these activities.
Honestly you don’t need to be a legal expert to figure out that there’s a huge anomaly here. If I can commit a crime worth a substantial amount of money and pay a petty fine then some amendments to the Post and Telecommunications Act are long overdue. There should be something in that Act regarding the illegality of possessing fraudulent equipment.
In our modern information society you can be sure that “Telecoms Hacking for Dummies” specifics are easily accessible to anyone willing to commit themselves to such training. If it is “profitable”, can be learnt online and attracts only a minor penalty courtesy of unclear regulation someone will do it.
In light of this Telecel, Econet and NetOne have a right to raise their concerns about the matter. Stiffer penalties that are clearly articulated for very specific criminal activities would likely act as deterrent for anyone thinking about illegal adventures.
We should not lose sight of the fact that making regulatory changes is not the only work that needs to be done here. Whoever is responsible needs to enforce them. POTRAZ has in the past tried to live up to this responsibility. A good example is the SIM card registration directive that saw Telecel terminating up to 100,000 lines that were not registered.
Every operator was quick to say that they had complied which might have led POTRAZ to the conclusion that the problem of illegal activity from unregistered lines had been contained.
This is however not the case when you realise how guys like Hlabangani end up with 98 Net-One lines, 36 Telecel ones and 30 Econet lines. It’s that easy to buy an activated line from street vendors. With their appetite for huge subscriber numbers its highly unlikely that the operators are willing to do anything drastic about this, even if it comes back to bite them.
Telecoms operators are not held accountable for the violation of SIM card registration regulations. It is the subscriber who faces prosecution for any crimes committed with the line. Which seems fair after all. Clearly the current regulations do not put any pressure on operators to play a bigger role in clamping down on non registered SIM cards.
I’m guessing that if operators are penalised for unregistered SIM activity beyond mere line disconnections there would be a greater conformity to some of these regulations. This would be a strong display of POTRAZ’s role as the enforcer and undoubtedly would be considered as an uncomfortable ruling by the same operators.
However if the operators are going to make their case to the State for tougher legislation then POTRAZ should review and enforce regulations for the operators’ benefit. What seems tough even on the operators will be for the same MNO’s sake.