Monday, September 28, 2020

Police spying equipment does not work on Be Mobile and Mascom cell phones

The controversial Botswana Police cell phone spying system can not listen in on cellular phone conversations of Be Mobile and Mascom subscribers and only works on the Orange Botswana platform.

This is at the centre of the case in which the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is investigating allegations of corruption against two senior police officers who were involved in the procurement of the GSM cellular and Computer surveillance System. The whole saga was this week degenerating into a comedy of errors.

Sunday Standard has been informed that although government has now reversed the tender award, it is weary of turning over the surveillance system to Dukeff Holdings; the local company that supplied the equipment as surrendering such equipment to a private company could compromise the country’s security.

In another curious twist, the DCEC seems to have dropped its corruption investigation while the Botswana police serve has dropped its corruption charges and instead replaced them with a single count of “neglect of duty”, which will be dealt with under the internal BPS disciplinary code.

It is understood that the decision to drop corruption charges came about after it emerged that the problem emanated from weaknesses in the tender document and budgetary constraints.

Documents passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that the Botswana Police Service did not have the money to spend on top notch equipment and ended up looking for bargains. The police service last year went back on its initial tender for the supply of the surveillance because the company that had won the tender, ST Electricals quoted P35 million, which was the lowest quotation.

Botswana police service then decided to retender for cheaper equipment. It is understood that there was an agreement that they would go for lower grade equipment which would be upgradeable.

Initially, BPS wanted equipment that would be able to decrypt cellular phone data at 5.2 encryption platform, which was being used by Mascom and Orange, and the 5.1 encryption platform, which is at the top end and was not used in the country. The tender also called for passive equipment which could not be detected by the cellular phone service providers.

It, however, turned out that the people who drew the tender were not aware that there is no passive surveillance equipment with a 5.1 platform.

It is understood that Dukeff Holdings, who won the tender, proposed that BPS should instead buy equipment with a 5.0 and 5.2 platform because it was cheaper and both Mascom and Orange operated at the 5.2 platform.

The evaluation team, which included the two senior police officers, agreed with the proposal and made a recommendation to the BPS head officer, where a recommendation was in turn made to the PPADB.

The evaluation team was then invited for a Factory Acceptance Test last August in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where they gave the equipment the green light.

The Botswana Police Service then bought two units at P5 million each, down from the initial quote of P35 million.

However, when the equipment was delivered, it emerged that Mascom had upgraded its equipment and migrated to the 5.1 platform, so the police equipment could not listen in on the conversation of Mascom subscribers.

When Be Mobile launched its services it also came in at the 5.1 platform which could not be decrypted by the police spying equipment.

So it meant that the equipment could only listen in on the conversation of Orange Botswana subscribers.

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