Nii Narku Dowuona interviewing the activistFree Press Activist Neils ten Oever has said data retention regulations like SIM Registration and other pose a threat to the privacy and anonymity of whistle blowers, and sources for journalists so they must be abolished.

Neils ten Oever is the Programme Coordinator of Free Press Unlimited and he was speaking at the just end 16th Highway Africa Conference at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

He noted that ?everything we do on our mobile devices and on the internet we are sharing with others without being aware of it ? companies, governments and perhaps your neighbor whizz kid knows the content of your emails, websites you have visited and your GPS location.?

The Free Press Activist noted that as of now all GSM networks are hackable with a kit that cost only $1,500, and can reroute and record all phone conversations.

Indeed there have been incidents in Ghana, particularly during the 2008 elections when journalist tapped the telephone conversations of politicians and played them live on air. Obviously the GSM telecom service providers did not or could not protect the privacy of those customers from the hacker journalist in that circumstance.

Ten Oever said: ?100% of all the activity on mobile phones and GMS-based smart devices can be intercepted ?and that is partly because 71% of mobile phone users don?t use a PIN or password to lock their mobile devices, and that exposes them and their contacts to hackers and digital surveillance systems,? he said.

?If you have any sensitive information to transmit do not use a mobile phone or email to do it because it is not safe,? he said.

Neils ten Oever said ICT specialists have been providing companies and governments with software and hardware to do data retention and that helps to trace sources of journalists and of whistle blowers, adding that those systems needed to be abolished because they threaten free press and free speech.

Ghana has a SIM Registration Law which requires that all mobile phone users register their SIM cards before they can make calls. The data generated from the process is kept with the service providers, and with government, and that helps identify persons who use their mobile phones to commit crimes.

The Minister of Communication, Haruna Iddrisu recently announced that the police reported to him that since SIM Registration started, they have been able to bust lots of criminals who use their mobile phones to commit crimes like death threats and scams.

SIM registration is also touted as a means by which SIM Box fraudsters could be identified and busted so that the millions of dollars poor countries like Ghana lose to those criminals could be stopped.

But Neil ten Oever posited that even though data retention regulation, even though may have their benefits, also scraps privacy and anonymity of journalists? sources, activists, and of whistle blowers who expose corruption.

He gave the example of Sudan and Russia, where an ordinary citizen filmed electoral officials with a mobile phone stuffing ballot boxes in an attempt to rig elections, and also of horrifying pictures from Syria to expose the officials involved.

?Such persons run the risked of being targeted and killed or harmed under a regime where their data has been retained by government agencies,? he said.

According to him, many of the internet service providers do not provide security systems that protect that privacy of their customers, and so most emails sent on yahoo and other browsers are transported in plain text so anyone can intercept and read them.

?ISPs and telcos only encrypt (code) the passwords of their customers to prevent people from easily accessing their information but every other communication is not encrypted so it easily accessible by staff of the ISPs/telcos and by hackers,? he said.

Neil Ten Oever urged journalists (media houses), activists and individuals to adopt simple mechanisms such as using passwords to lock their phone, save addresses and contacts securely, avoid putting all mailing contacts in the CC column when sending an email, and use ?https? web addresses rather than ?http?, have very strong passwords, which are long and have mixed up characters like numbers, symbols, small letters and caps.

He said it is also important to always change one?s password and monitor the security features of which ISP/telco one uses in order to keep updating the security of one?s account.

Neils ten Oever also noted that it is dangerous to always sign up to various applications and online services without first reading the terms and conditions to know if one is giving up full ownership of one?s information, adding that storing data online, rather than on one?s laptop, is also very unsafe.

But, even though it is possible for governments, telcos, ISPs and hackers to listen into the communications of phone users, and intercept emails and other information stored online, there are regulations that prohibit them from doing that.

In Ghana, for instance, the laws prohibit telcos and ISPs to store the particulars of customers, and the statistics of their activities, but not the content.

While Ten Oever was speaking of the digital nakedness of GSM users, MTN Ghana Corporate Services Executive (CSE) Cynthia Lumor was also in Ghana telling journalists in the eastern region that MTN has no equipment to tap phone calls, adding that the law even bars them from doing that.

She however did not say how MTN could protect customers? phone calls from being tapped into by hackers like what happened during the 2008 elections.

The annual Highway Africa Conference is the biggest gathering of journalists, policymakers and ICT experts from within and without Africa, to discuss and debate on how free press could be deepened, and on how the media in Africa could improve on their practice and contribute more efficiently to the development of Africa.

From: Ghana l l Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona


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