Friday, August 21, 2009


I laughed like a drain when I read that MTN Swaziland, the kingdom’s only provider of cell phone services, claimed that it offered its customers ‘absolute privacy’ when they made calls.

Tebogo Mogapi, MTN chief executive went so far as to say, ‘Bugging of people’s phones is not happening on the MTN network and it is not possible for someone to bug a phone on our network.’

Sorry, but bugging a cell phone is comparatively easy and Mogapi must know that. If he doesn’t he shouldn’t be chief executive of a phone service provider. If, as I suspect, he does know this why is he trying to mislead his customers?

Part of the answer is found in the new Electronics Bill presently making its way through the Swaziland Parliament.

The bill would allow Swazi security services to tap phones if it can get a court order.

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was at pains to reassure readers their liberties were not under threat.

It quoted Mogapi saying MTN had ‘streamlined how the police can access information if they were investigating a serious matter’. However, he said MTN would allow police access, but only if they had a court order. So, not much of a protection there then.

The court order is irrelevant. In the modern age, you don’t need permission to bug someone’s cell phone; the technology is there for people to do it quite easily.

Mogapi, who remember is chief executive of MTN, doesn’t seem to have heard about this. He told the Observer, ‘We understand that there’s software available that could go into your number and duplicate messages, but it hasn’t been demonstrated to me yet.’

Where has he been hiding? There are numerous accounts of cell phone tapping from across the world. In 2007 a UK newspaper journalist Clive Goodman made international news when he was jailed for reporting the private phone calls of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

Although it is illegal in most countries it is easy to tap a cell phone. If you feel the need to listen in on the conversations of King Mswati or Barnabas Dlamini, his illegally-appointed prime minister, or anyone else for that matter, you can get the necessary software here, or here or here.

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