State seeks to eradicate fake mobile phones

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo has said the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) intends to install device management systems (DMS) on phones to end the proliferation of counterfeit devices and theft. 

Owalo told the Senate ICT Committee sitting in Nairobi that the device management systems is not intended to spy on people’s communication and its implementation will be done in strict compliance with the Constitution and all other relevant laws in the country. 

He said the DMS will help deal with Sim Boxing which is a form of fraud in telecommunications where a person usually not licenced to provide telecommunication services sets up a device that can take up several sim cards and use it to terminate or receive international calls from the internet and feed them to the country mobile network subscribers as though it is local telephone traffic. 

“The influx of counterfeit substandard and non-type approved devices in the country presents a huge problem to our society given the nature of mobile phone devices and their importance to us," said the CS.

"The Communication Authority of Kenya has set out to develop an effective technological solution to control the threat through the deployment of a system to automatically detect and disable end-user equipment that do not meet set criteria,” he added. 

The CS told the Committee chaired by Trans Nzoia Senator Allan Chesang that the authority had began the DMS implementation process in 2016 which the courts stopped and that in April this year, the Supreme Court dismissed the suit giving the CA the greenlight to install the system on phones. 

Owalo said that the use of mobile technology has permeated every facet of life and Kenya is no exception in this regard having demonstrated its prowess in Information, Communication and Technology innovation and continues to develop new ways of harnessing ICT and mobile technology to support various social economic activities. 

He said that criminals take advantage of new technologies by exploiting gaps and it is therefore imperative that society should ensure that such criminal elements are impeded in their quest to exploit this for unfair gain or to perpetrate crime and compromise national security. 

“It is recognised that gaps may exist at the network level or at the subscriber end that create the aforementioned system vulnerabilities that eventually lead to the use of mobile communications for criminal purposes and hence the need to find solutions that either eliminate or significantly reduce the aforementioned threats to our society,” said Owalo. 

The CS explained that the Central Equipment Identity Registry(CEIR) registers all genuine mobile phones after which there is continuous monitoring of mobile phones as they connect to the nation’s networks in which irregular devices are permanently blocked from the system in case of reported stolen or lost phone with invalid identifying information and the eventual blocking of the phone if certain procedures are not completed. 

He said that the preferred system of use is that of IMEI Control Solution which is less intrusive to consumers and has been successfully used in other countries that faced similar problems like the Kenyan market.

Owalo noted that the system will identify all active devices on the public telecommunications network isolate illegal communication devices and create and maintain a whitelist of legitimate communication devices. 

He said that to achieve the objectives of the proposed system, CA will work closely with the Anti Counterfeit Agency in investigating and pursuing any counterfeit devices that the proposed DMS identifies. 

CA will also work with the Kenya Bureau of Standards in ensuring that device standards are adhered to while the National Police Service will investigate and pursue stolen devices that the proposed system identifies. 

“Communication Authority of Kenya will collaborate with TradeNet which is an online platform that serves as a single entry point for parties involved in international trade and transport logistics to lodge documents electronically for processing approvals and to make payments electronically for fees, levies, duties and taxes due to the government on good imported or exported from the country,” said Owalo. 

He said that the authority will also be required to work with the Kenya Trade Network Agency whose role is to implement and manage the National Electronic Single Window System and the Kenya Revenue Authority whose role is to control the ports of entry through which all imported devices enter the country. 

CA will also collaborate with Mobile Network Operators since they have intimate knowledge of all the devices and users on their networks and they will be used to identify and terminate any stolen or counterfeit devices from using their network.