By Fidelis Munyoro
Econet Wireless has been granted a provisional High Court order staying execution of a warrant authorising police to seize the company’s entire database of the transaction details of its mobile money subscribers, largely because the search warrant did not specify the names of those whose details were required.
The High Court ruled that such general warrants were not permissible. The staying of the execution of the warrant lasts until the High Court has decided on the legality of the warrant in a fuller legal hearing.
The company, which boasts of more than 11 million subscribers, is arguing that the warrant was too general, seeking details of all subscribers rather than just those suspected of breaking laws, and also violates its privacy and that of its subscribers.
The ruling comes after Econet, the country’s largest mobile phone operator, approached the High Court for relief, after the police requested it to hand over details of its mobile money transactions and subscribers on Friday last week.
The authorities suspect its network was being used to conduct money-laundering. But Justice Edith Mushore granted the urgent application by Econet to stay the execution of the warrant until the determination of the legality of the request for the desired details.
In granting the provisional order Justice Mushore made an observation that the affidavit giving rise to the warrant was contradictory.
It specified that there are specific persons alleged to be involved in money laundering, but it requested the entire database of all customers and not the details of those specific “runners”.
“This shows that the police may actually not have had reasonable suspicion,” said Justice Mushore.
“A warrant of this kind is not permissible. This is no longer Rhodesia where such searches were permissible.”
In an urgent High Court application, Econet argued that the warrant should be suspended while the court determined its legality at a full hearing in future.
The warrant of search and seizure, the company further argued, was unlawful and constituted a violation of its right to privacy and also the right of privacy of its subscribers.
The fact that the warrant was too wide in its scope, Econet argued, made it unconstitutional.
Already, the Government has suspended some of Econet’s EcoCash bulk transactions agent lines, for allegedly fuelling the black market trade for foreign currency.
EcoCash is under Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe Limited after Econet unbundled its financial technology division into a separate entity two years ago.
Advocates Thabani Mpofu and Tafadzwa Mapuranga represented Econet while the Attorney-General’s civil division acted for the police. The Herald