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Namibia: Phone Service Stopped Because of Police Abuse
Source: New Era
Source Date: Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Focus: Knowledge Management in Government
Country: Namibia
Created: Jun 07, 2012

Windhoek — The tracing of stolen cellphones was stopped after it transpired that some members of the police abused the phone network systems. It is alleged that some police officers were paid money to trace incoming calls of some married people suspected of infidelity. Some law enforcement agents in the Namibian Police and Windhoek City Police, and even members of the Military Police, would in the past approach MTC, Telecom Namibia and Leo for tracing forms under the pretext they were going to trace "stolen phones". But the real motive for some of their requests was apparently to tap and even trace incoming calls of married persons suspected of cheating on their spouses. Hence, the police have apparently urged telecommunication companies to only give out printouts when there is a court order and when a phone is implicated in a serious case. However, New Era can confirm that individual law enforcement officers continue to solicit bribes to trace cellphone calls involved in mundane activities. Khomas Regional Crime Investigation Coordinator, Deputy Commissioner Sylvanus Nghishidimbwa, admitted that such abuse has occurred, but said "we are working on ways to stop the existing loopholes. We need to scrutinize which phones to trace, because if you trace just any phone, it is very expensive and one is losing a lot," he explained. Officers would allegedly fill in the forms using false case numbers and cellphone models (Make) and take the forms to their chiefs for signature to obtain printouts from service provider companies. In actual fact, the police officers would get their "lovers, wives and husbands' printouts" and check who they were communicating with because they would see outgoing and incoming calls, including SMS's. Out of jealousy, they would surprise their partners with mobile phone printouts and demand answers about who they communicated with and the reason for the suspected phone calls. The aggrieved parties, citing invasion of privacy, would approach telecommunication companies demanding answers as to how their printouts were issued without their "consent" and would even threaten legal action. Some allegedly opened civil cases because officers invaded their privacy without their consent. "My wife and I had misunderstandings and she moved out of the common home and started dating a police officer. Because my wife and I have children together, we often communicated. This man was jealous and he misused his powers to go to MTC and illegally got our printouts," said a man who declined to be named. The officer apparently confronted her and she got upset. "She told me about it and I went to MTC to ask how our printouts were issued. MTC told us a police officer said he was tracing a phone. He used false case numbers to obtain our printouts," the angry man fumed. The man said a case was opened with the court and the police officer was ordered to pay N$60 000 for invading someone's privacy. Such a situation has allegedly led to companies tightening their systems on issuing printouts. New Era journalist, Magreth Nunuhe, who was recently robbed of her cellphone and N$1 000 in cash, was turned away by the police without their opening a case because the service has bow been suspended. Senior Superintendent Gerry Shikesho at Windhoek City Police also acknowledged that they used to trace cellphones in the past but the practice has since changed. "Now it can only be done if the investigating officer has a court order," he explained. MTC Chief Human Capital and Corporate Affairs Officer, Tim Ekandjo, said MTC has a very strict confidentiality policy, adding that this is also regulated by MTC licence conditions that third party information should not be shared with anybody other than the client him/herself. He, however, denied that MTC stopped the tracing of cellphones. "We continue to provide information to the police provided they have a court order to obtain the information from us. The reason why we require a court order is because this is sensitive information and we have a responsibility to protect our customer's information at all cost," Ekandjo reasoned. He said the tracing of cellphones is a police responsibility and not MTC's. "MTC will not assist individuals to trace their own phones because we don't want to put our customers in danger when doing so, as the phones might be with dangerous criminals and that is why we require customers to make a police case and the police will then deal with the relevant department at MTC," he noted. He said allegations that some police officers abused information were not true and not known to MTC. "But if anybody has information that the police abuse such information then we encourage them to alert MTC or the chief of police who will deal with the concerned police officer." Ekandjo assured that MTC takes confidentiality very seriously and has very robust and waterproof systems in place to ensure that all their customers' data is safe at all times. Senior Manager: Corporate Communications and Public Relations at Telecom Namibia, Oiva Angula, also said police officers must get court orders before any printout can be issued - to protect client confidentiality. A spokesperson at Leo Customer Centre said it only issues printouts to clients provided they produce their national documents, reasons for the printout and a N$30 payment.
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