Why RICA can’t work

HackthumbThe purpose of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (known to you and I as RICA) is to help fight crime. The intention of the Act is to ensure that every SIM card in the country can be traced to an individual. The benefit of the Act is that, anytime a phone is used in the commission of a crime, the perpetrator can be identified and traced.

Only one thing is needed to make this Act work as intended: a miracle.

Consider this: if your phone is stolen, you cannot simply report it to the police. They require you to report it to your service provider, obtain something called an ITC number, and have the phone blocked. Or, at least, that is what police stations are telling victims of this most basic of cellphone crimes.

However, when you phone your service provider to have your phone blocked, they will tell you that you first need to report it stolen, and obtain a case number from the police.

Make a noise – like phoning in to radio talk shows to complain, railing against your service provider on Twitter, or complaining on an online customer complaints forum – and they will scramble to assist.

Yes, they will agree to block the phone if you can confirm just a few details. Like identity number and home address. No problem there. You gave that during the RICA process. Oh, and please confirm the date you bought the phone. A little more complicated, but with luck you kept the receipt.

Oh, and on what date did you get your cellphone number? Seriously? Yes, and on what date did you RICA your SIM card. Wha?? Who remembers that? Who keeps that kind of record? Okay, Mr Criminal, keep the phone – it’s going to be less trouble just buying another one.

Oh wait, failure to report a SIM card stolen or destroyed can render you liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years. I’m kidding, right? Wrong. The Act makes you a criminal if you don’t carry on jumping through those hoops to report a basic theft.

By the way, the Act specifies that a police official who receives a report of a stolen SIM card must "immediately provide the person who makes the report with written proof that the report has been made". However, it appears "immediately" is not defined in the Act.

Now let’s imagine that we suspect a crime is actually under way. Say, a hijacking. The victim can be traced if the police act fast. But wait, they have to get a court order from a judge, then take the court order to the network, which will then assist in tracing the phone. Spot the mistake? It’s called time, and that’s clearly on the criminal’s side.

Which is why, when we hear reports of police catching a criminal through tracing a phone, we must assume a miracle has occurred.

But such things shouldn’t be left to the supernatural. With immediate effect, we need:

A procedure that allows you to report a stolen phone once, without requiring mutually contradictory proof of having reported it elsewhere;

A procedure that doesn’t demand documentation or information that is almost impossible to produce;

An amendment to the law that prevents the victim from being, by default, a criminal;

A procedure that ensures instant cooperation between police and networks, such as a permanent office within each of the networks, staffed round the clock by judicial officers with the power to issue a court order, and police officers with both the power and the skill to liaise with the networks – not to mention someone tasked with this role within the network itself.

This last procedure would need to be funded in terms of both human and physical resources, but considering the hundreds of millions spent by networks on the RICA process, that would be a pittance by comparison.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee