Crime intelligence officials and police officers knew that Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear’s phone was being tracked two weeks before his assassination.
Kinnear was murdered outside his home on 18 September, and the subsequent investigation revealed that cellular location-based services were used to plot this crime.
Wireless application service providers (WASPs) were given full access to subscribers’ sensitive location data in “good faith”, with the understanding that they will not abuse this data.
WASPs signed contracts which required them to get consent before they can track a person, but this did not happen.
Instead, there was widespread abuse of location-based services to track South Africans without their consent or knowledge.
This abuse went unnoticed until Kinnear’s assassination and the murder investigation which followed.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) subsequently brought the abuse of location-based services to the attention of MTN and Vodacom.
After MTN was alerted to the abuse, it asked all nine WASPs with which it has contracts to prove that the people they tracked gave them permission to allow it.
When they failed to produce this information, MTN cut all access to location-based services for these WASPs.
MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband they will not tolerate WASPs or any service provider putting the privacy of their customers at risk.
“Should abuse be identified, through our end-to-end forensic investigation, MTN will not hesitate to pursue both criminal and civil charges against the perpetrators of the abuse,” she said.
Vodacom, in turn, would not say how many companies have access to the location data of their subscribers.
The operator told MyBroadband it suspended the location-based services of one company pending further investigation.
It is currently not clear if other WASPs still have access to Vodacom subscribers’ location data.
News24 has revealed that Crime intelligence officials and police officers knew that Kinnear’s phone was tracked, and by who, two weeks before his murder.
His wife, Nicolette Kinnear, told the publication Kinnear was alerted that his location was tracked through his phone at the same time.
“He messaged me about it [his phone was tracked]. He was fuming about it,” Nicolette Kinnear told News24.
Despite the additional threat to Charl Kinnear’s life, there was no protection provided to him.
This raises the question of why Vodacom and MTN did not pick up the abuse of location-based services by third parties.
MTN’s O’Sullivan told MyBroadband they have launched a full forensic investigation and would prefer not to comment on any details of this matter, pending the outcome of that process.
“There are clearly concerns, but I don’t want to speculate and would prefer to have all the facts, prior to offering any further views on this matter,” she said.
Vodacom said it embarked on a review across the business of all third-party providers to ensure that they are compliant as the regulatory environment continues to evolve.
The company could not say why it did not pick up abuse of its location-based services which allowed tracking people’s phones without their consent or knowledge.
The company did, however, say it treats transgressions in a serious light and will take appropriate action once their investigation ran its course.