The Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) has dispelled reports that the authority’s intention to get cellphones registered is to enable them to listen to private calls that people are making.
Twobar Koontse, the Director of Communications and Public Relations in the ministry, denied such reports.
”We have also heard such reports but I can assure you and the nation at large, that these reports are not true,” he said.
Koontse said that it is impossible to listen to all the cellphone users in the country, adding that there is no reason to do that.
”Why would one want to listen to private conversations between people? There is no justification for that,” he said.
Koontse said that cellphone users who are on contract have long been registered with them but that there have been no complaints that they are being listened to.
“No contract cellphone user has ever complained that they had been listened to; or do you know of any? We have not received such a report,” he said.
Asked about recent reports that the Botswana Police Service had bought a device that enables them to listen to conversations, Koontse said that he did not want to comment on the matter because he did not have enough information, apart from what he had read in newspapers.
”All I know about that issue is what I have read in newspapers so I will not comment on it,” he said.
The Sunday Standard asked him why people have to register if it is not for making it easier for authorities to listen to conversations.
Koontse said that there are three main reasons for this.
First, he said, there has always been conditions on giving licences to cellular phone operators and that there is need to know the correct and total number of cellular phone users in the country “for investment purposes, amongst other things”.
Koontse said that, at the moment, all that they have are rough estimates that put the figure at 2 million users, which is close to the country’s population.
The registration of cellphones, he said, will deal with this problem, as it would provide correct information on the number of users in the country, adding that the other reason is that of security.
If a registered phone is stolen, he said, and its owner reports this, then the phone can easily be traced to the person who is using it.
Koontse stressed that registration of cell phones will soon become a regional thing in an effort to fight crime.
He said that he knew that security officials were currently addressing this problem in the region.
”The registration of cellular phones is currently being addressed at regional level, to make sure that the problem is dealt with at regional level,” he said.
On the 31 December deadline for all users to have registered their cellular phones, Koontse said that they are going to enforce it to the letter and that they have done all they could to alert people to register their cellular phones through advertising in local media.
”We have run adverts in newspapers, radio and on television. The message has surely reached the people and our hope is that the people will have registered by deadline, if not, such people will simply be disconnected,” he said.
On whether cutting from the network those who have not registered will not affect the service providers economically, Koontse said the responsibility lies with them.
”They are the ones benefiting; they should make sure that their customers comply with our rules or else they will suffer economically as their clients will be cut off from the network,” he said.
He said that some service providers had already started campaigns around the country to inform people about this. He added that it is all up to the service providers to make sure they reach all their customers to avoid financial loses that might occur if users are cut off from network.
“It is all up to them to go out and inform their users about this or else they will incur financial loses,” he said.
Asked how many people had so far registered, Koontse said that they did not have the figures.
“We will soon have such information but I cannot say exactly when,” he said.