The provisional High Court in Zimbabwe has granted Econet Wireless a stay of execution of a warrant. The warrant authorises the police to seize the company’s entire database of the transaction details of its mobile money subscribers. The stay of execution was granted 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.
Econet, which boasts of more than 11 million subscribers, is arguing that the warrant was too general. This is because it seeks details of all subscribers rather than just those suspected of breaking laws. Also, it violates its privacy and that of its subscribers.
Justice Edith Mushore who presided over the case said that the affidavit giving rise to the warrant was contradictory.
The affidavit specified that there are specific persons alleged to be involved in money laundering. However, it requested the entire database of all customers and not the details of those specific runners.
Justice Mushore also said that the contradictions could mean that the police may not have had reasonable suspicion. She said: “A warrant of this kind is not permissible. This is no longer Rhodesia where such searches were permissible.”
Econet’s Tussle with the Government
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 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. These agent lines were suspended for allegedly fuelling the black-market trade for foreign currency.
EcoCash is under Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe 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.