Brace yourself for RICA

First we had FICA, now we have RICA.

Under FICA, I was separated from my own money, safely (or so I thought!) entrusted to my bank. It took about a week of frenzied re-submitting (yes, re-submitting!!) of all the paperwork to reunite me with my cash. Naturally, by then I was visibly emaciated (you know how it is: no money = no food).

I fully expect RICA to have similar effects. It will probably cut me from my mobile network for as long as it takes to clear some clerical error. As a consolation, I get to keep all the baby fat I accumulated since the traumatic FICA incident. (And no, thank you, I do not do banking with my cell phone.)

Still, whether we grumble or not, there it is. It’s the LAW. And we have to comply with it.

For buyers, this means that you must bring your ID and proof of physical address when you want to buy a SIM card. The existing subscribers have a year and a half to submit the documents, or face being deactivated.

For sellers, this means that you will have to keep buyer’s particulars and produce them when asked by the authorities to do so. Read the RICA FAQs and especially note this requirement: “Registration must be done in person to confirm (the buyer’s) identity”.

In addition, according to RICA, our cell phone communications may be monitored without our knowledge or consent (of course, we already know there’s no privacy on any network).

RICA was written to help fight serious crime. Criminals often use cell phones to commit fraud and this law aims to create an audit trail to allow police to connect a particular suspect to a specific handset.

Undoubtedly, there is always a trade-off between our liberties as individuals and collective safety and security. This trade-off is always a difficult and problematic balancing act. (It is no coincidence that, as far as common crime goes, authoritarian societies are safer than democracies). But when our freedom to spend our own money or to access our communication network is restricted without noticeable effects on safety and security – than the whole thing becomes simply vexing.