Nica Richards

By Nica Richards

Journalist


Government won’t be a problem with cellphone track and trace – criminals could be

For hackers, databases such as Rica and Telkom’s track-and-trace system is the motherlode of cybercrime.


Government’s recent partnership with Telkom, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to roll out a massive track-and-trace solution to curb the spread of the coronavirus is a good idea – in theory. Countries around the world have implemented this technology to trace anyone who may have come into contact with a Covid-19-positive person, and South Africa’s track-and-trace system is not that different. But it was good for citizens to know that, if there is a data breach of any kind, they could hold government accountable, said University of Johannesburg computer science and…

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Government’s recent partnership with Telkom, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to roll out a massive track-and-trace solution to curb the spread of the coronavirus is a good idea – in theory.

Countries around the world have implemented this technology to trace anyone who may have come into contact with a Covid-19-positive person, and South Africa’s track-and-trace system is not that different.

But it was good for citizens to know that, if there is a data breach of any kind, they could hold government accountable, said University of Johannesburg computer science and software engineering professor Basie von Solms.

“However logical it is to implement a massive database containing sensitive information is irrelevant – the country is in a national disaster,” Von Solms told The Citizen.

“A 21-day lockdown is not normal and infringes on citizens’ right to freedom of movement, so of course people being tracked and traced will infringe on privacy rights, but extraordinary circumstances call for abnormal measures, albeit temporary.”

The lockdown is expected to end on 16 April. Von Solms is concerned about government’s dodgy track record when it comes to protecting its own websites, but said citizens would have to accept they would be tracked and traced to the benefit of the country.

He said it made sense that government had not yet disclosed what security measures had been put in place because cybercriminals would have access to these measures and more insight on how to obtain data.

There are databases in existence already, such as Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication (Rica), which requires any SIM card user to register their ID number and residential address, as well as submit anything from bank statements to insurance policies and lease agreements to secure their access to telecommunications providers.

And for hackers, databases such as Rica and Telkom’s track-and-trace system is the motherlode of cybercrime syndicates, making information vulnerable to scams and identity cloning.

One of the unfortunate downsides to mobile technology is its ability to infringe on one’s privacy. For now, citizens will have to hope their information is safe, and be assured that should there be a breach, government could be held accountable.

“It’s a waiting game; we all just have to hope that government keeps these promises,” Von Solms said.

– nicas@citizen.co.za

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