Impounded phones: Be careful Cape Town, urge Fin24 users

You risk having your cellphone impounded if you use it while driving. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
You risk having your cellphone impounded if you use it while driving. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town – Fin24 users have urged the City of Cape Town to properly ensure that personal data is erased before donating impounded cellphones.

Fin24 has reported that the city plans to donate cellphones impounded from drivers to community organisations.

The City, meanwhile, has subsequently said that it has hired a company to take care of wiping the data. The City has said that it could still consider selling the devices after it has wiped these devices of their data.

READ: Cape Town ramps up cellphone impounds

Fin24 users, though, say that the City must take every step to wipe data from phones.

“City could be sued if confidential information such as bank accounts, personal information or company information is leaked and abused by third parties,” wrote Fin24 user Johann about the initiative.

“This is a fantastic, bright, wise, creative idea. That is why Cape Town is tops. Let the community help to prevent and report crime,” weighed in Fin24 user Sun Powerza.

For Fin24 user Maureen though, the impound cost and personal details were concerns.

“To donate impounded cellphones and give them away, you are creating a monster.  

A) All the legal owners numbers are on that phone and probably many personal details.
B) That could be their only mode of communication - to replace that phone could cost money they haven't got.
C) I personally think it's disgusting making a person pay R1 140 to have that phone released."

“Shame, shame, shame - bow your heads,” Maureen fumed.

“The concept of giving the phones to community is great in theory, but the safety and security implications are far reaching and before this idea is taken further, it should first be thoroughly dealt with,” said Fin24 user Johan.

Johan argued that there were factors to consider.

“1. The phones have smartphone capabilities which store personal details like the owner’s address, banking apps, details and statements, saved private messages and photos, call and travel history, other personal and or business information and data that is possibly confidential.

2. Even if the SIM card and external memory card is removed, the above could still be stored on the phones memory.

3. Many people that are not tech savvy save their PIN codes and other information in their contact list or on notes, which would be easily accessible to the new owners.

4. The only person that could really be considered to be able to reset the phone is the owner of the phone.

5. The phones are taken away, which is fine, but the data, photos etc on the phone in many cases have more value to the owner, and that was not part of the phone, so could not have  been seen to have been given to the state or the new owners.

6. If any of the information or the phone technology is used by the new owners or their employees to injure or defraud the previous owners in any way, who will be held liable for same?

7. Photos of your minor children could be seen as child pornography in the hands of a third party, and could in worst case scenarios be used as such, that is when your child swimming in your backyard becomes a sick individual’s property, which person would likely now have your GPS and other home and personal details as well.

I must say, if the city did go ahead, and any person used my details to hurt me or my family, I would lay it solely at the feet of the state.

The phones should be destroyed, or given to a government body to reset and refurbish before being handed to any third party.”

Fin24 user Dave hopes the officials will carefully consider whether personal data has been removed correctly.

“There is too much on a phone these days that people rely on – contact details, apps, diary, social media, banking, online trading – what is the policy on having access to a person’s private information (Popi) such as a person’s contact details, photos, e-mail, SMS and WhatsApp conversations? You can switch off the phone and take away the SIM card but access to certain areas is still possible.”

Some believe the only option is to destroy the devices.

“Crush and destroy the antiquated phones publicly. You know it is the right thing to do,” said a second Fin24 user called Johan.

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