South Africa: Minister of Communication reaffirms privacy of communications


Communications minister Roy Padayachie has downplayed recent statements by his deputy, Obed Bapela, that government may seek to allow law enforcement agencies, through the courts, to get access to the records of people using the popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.

In a strongly worded statement on Thursday, Padayachie says he aligns himself with a statement issued by justice minister Jeff Radebe, who is the coordinator of the justice cluster in government that the state has “no intention to regulate or legislate against BlackBerry encryption messenger services”.

“Government is still working on a policy statement on cyber matters, which policy will review current regulatory and legislative instruments with respect to cyberspace matters,” he says.

Bapela made the comments about BBM at Telkom’s annual Satnac conference in East London earlier this week, saying “a lot of criminality” was happening using the BlackBerry service. “We might have to follow Britain and Saudi Arabia to say we need to have [access to] a decryption system if crimes are committed [using the BlackBerry service],” Bapela said.

He later clarified that government wasn’t specifically targeting BlackBerry, but any communications platform that could be used to commit crime.

In his statement, Padayachie says he “welcomes the willingness of [BlackBerry maker] Research in Motion to work closely with government to prevent the abuse of the encrypted messenger services by criminals for unlawful purposes”. But, he says, “government has no intention to intercede or interfere with the privacy of communications between private citizens for lawful purposes.”