Police may use tracking, tracing software for now despite copyright dispute
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Pretoria - The police, for now, may continue developing and using software systems for the tracking and tracing of evidence, despite a dispute over its copyright.
IT services provider Forensic Data Analysts and Investigative Software Solutions failed in its attempt to provisionally interdict the SAPS from developing software programs in this regard.
The applicant turned to the High Court in Joburg, claiming that the police and the State Information Technology Agency were copycatting its intellectual property in developing the software.
The parties have been at loggerheads since the service provider deactivated the systems last year.
The applicant claimed that the SAPS was owing millions of rand and refusing to pay.
The core of the case is that the SAPS infringed on the copyright which the applicant held in two computer systems it had developed and which was previously licensed to the SAPS.
These are the FPS and the PCEM systems software platforms and their various components.
The systems enable the user to register and manage objects, create and manage physical locations, and record the movement of these objects between authorised SAPS personnel, all on a computer-based platform.
The FPS system was developed and used by the SAPS to register and manage the movement of firearms, firearm permits and related components.
The PCEM system was used to register and manage the movement of police exhibits, Forensic Science Laboratory case files, fingerprints and other property items.
These systems enabled the SAPS to manage these items on a computer-based platform as opposed to a manual platform.
The programmes provided both track and trace capabilities, as well as chain-of-custody capabilities for use by the SAPS for purposes of criminal prosecutions.
When the relationship between the two parties came to an end, the SAPS asked the agency to develop these programmes.
It denied that it was using the applicants’ formulas on which to base the programs.
According to the SAPS, the agency had been working on these programs long before it started using those made by the applicants. It was said that the agency simply had to expand on what it already had.
Following a dispute over money, the applicant finally deactivated the PCEM and FPS systems in June last year.
The applicant then asked the court to interdict the SAPS and the agency from further developing and using these systems, pending a final order later.
Judge Raylene Keightley, however, said it was uncertain when such a final application would serve before the court and the SAPS could not be stopped from developing and using its own system indefinitely.
She said if the applicants could later prove that their intellectual property was being used by the SAPS and the agency, the applicant could always institute an action for damages.
The SAPS said if it was interdicted from developing and using its own programs, it would have to resort to a manual method of operating the critical functions of tracking and tracing evidence.
The judge agreed that this would place the criminal justice system in an extreme state of emergency .
“The SAPS has a constitutional duty to enforce law and order and to bring offenders to book in the interests of public safety and security. The negative implications of an interdict for the proper functioning of our criminal justice system appear to me to be self-evident.
“While the SAPS might have functioned on a manual basis when the applicants closed access to their systems, forcing them again into that position is not something that should be done lightly.
“There can be no question that were an interdict to be granted, this would inevitably result in, at best, considerable delays in criminal cases and, at worst, offenders going free, if the SAPS were limited to resorting to a manual system,” the judge said.