Cell jammer set off in ‘error’, says Security minister

2015-02-19 00:00

CAPE TOWN — An “operational ­error” had caused a cellphone signal scrambler to be activated before the State of the National address (Sona) last week Thursday.

This is the statement issued yesterday by Minister of State Security David Mahlobo.

He issued the statement only hours before he was to defend the State ­Security Agency’s blocking of cellphone signals at a media conference.

Amid strong criticism from intelligence experts that such an action is illegal and that the agency had no place at the Sona in terms of the law, Mahlobo said he was also nonplussed when the scrambling device was activated.

There was no executive decision to interfere with the free flow of information during the Sona, he said.

He blamed a junior staff member for erroneously activating the scrambling device, which then blocked “certain cellphone users”.

This junior scapegoat may face disciplinary steps following a departmental investigation, Mahlobo said.

He said his department regretted the unintended interference with cellphone signals in parts of Parliament.

Mahlobo said the agency has a mandate to apply this type of security measure at large events where the president and deputy president are present.

He said the agency treated the Sona as a high-risk event, given several ­“unknown” events before the address.

Intelligence experts however said the State Security Agency’s involvement in Parliament is totally illegal, unless the department can prove there were ­extraordinary threat to national security, such as terrorism or a planned coup attempt during the Sona.

Regardless of whether the scrambling device was inadvertently activated or not, it should never have been near Parliament, the experts said.

They added as the minister cannot prove there was a threat to national ­security, criminal charges should be laid against whoever gave the order to allow the agency in Parliament.

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