A member of parliament in Swaziland says people in the kingdom are scared to communicate on their cell phones because they have been bugged.
Mtfongwaneni MP Mjuluko Dlamini made the comment in the in the House of Assembly on Monday (9 April 2018).
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported, ‘His statement comes after rumours have been circulating that the state was now able to listen to all conversations between certain individuals.’
He called on Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Dumisani Ndlangamandla to attend parliament to answer questions. His motion was seconded by Mbabane West MP Johane Shongwe, who also said people were now scared to communicate freely, the Times reported.
Reports have been circulating on social media that the Swazi state is now able to spy on sites such as Facebook. Last week a new law was introduced in Swaziland compelling people to register their cell phones and other electronic gadgets.
There are constant concerns in Swaziland that state police and the Army are spying on people. Freedom of expression and assembly are severely curtailed in the kingdom. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government ministers. The Suppression of Terrorism Act is used to jail prodemocracy advocates.
There is some evidence that the state does have intentions on spying. In 2012 when prodemocracy demonstrations were at their height in Swaziland it came to light that the kingdom’s Army was caught buying spy cameras and phone monitoring equipment worth US$1.25 million.
The Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) – the formal name of the Swaziland Army – was sued in the Swaziland High Court because it ordered the equipment, but did not pay for it.
The equipment was known as GSM Option: Voice Intercept or delivery and SMS (Short Message Service) Intercept or delivery, as well as spy cameras and alarm systems, the Times of Swaziland reported at the time.
The equipment could be used against the civilian population in Swaziland. The Voice Intercept equipment is marketed as a tool to monitor and record live phone conversations, which, according to one supplier called SyTech Corporation, the equipment could be a valuable asset to any agency and investigation. It, ‘delivers the evidence that makes the case while protecting officers’ safety’.
The GSM equipment is designed to monitor mobile phones. This type of equipment is widely available across the world. Another supplier listed the main use as, ‘following a person’s activities and staying undetected’.
The equipment records all information on the phone as it happens and records ‘phone events’. It can spy on SMS text messages, on web browser activities and call logs (inbound and outbound). It can also track the phone’s location using GPS.
It was, one supplier said, ‘100 percent undetectable and you can spy on unlimited [number of] phones.’
The Swaziland Army ordered equipment worth about E10 million (US$1.25 million at the then exchange rate) from Naspoti J & M Security Solutions, in Nelspruit, South Africa, the Swazi High Court heard, but cancelled the order just as the company was ready to deliver. No reason was given to the court for the cancellation but, then as today the Swazi Government was broke and struggling to pay its bills, including public sector salaries.
This was not the first time that the Swazi ruling elite has been found trying to spy on the King’s subjects. In August 2011, Wikileaks published a cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland that revealed the Swazi Government had tried to get MTN, the only mobile phone provider in the kingdom, to use its network for ‘surveillance on political dissidents’.
Tebogo Mogapi, the MTN chief executive officer (CEO) in Swaziland, refused to comply and later did not have his work permit renewed and so had to leave the kingdom.
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