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Communications Authority stops phone spying system plan as ordered

By Paul Wafula | February 23rd 2017
Mobile phone in use

The Communications Authority (CA) has suspended implementation of the controversial mobile monitoring system following a court order.

The High Court on Monday stopped the agency, which regulates the communications industry in Kenya, from mounting monitoring devices on mobile networks.

“As a law-abiding corporate citizen, CA shall suspend the implementation of the system in line with the court orders issued on February 20, 2017 temporarily restraining CA from proceeding with the project until the matter is heard and determined,” CA Director General Francis Wangusi said in a statement.

Mobile firms fear the gadgets, known as the Device Management System (DMS), could be used to snoop on private communication. But CA said it would not stop the planned process to plant the gadgets on all the mobile networks in the country.

The exercise was to start on Tuesday this week and it would have seen the authority create a pipe between mobile operators and itself. Mobile phone companies say the gadgets have the ability to listen, read and track down activities of the tens of millions of Kenyans who have access to mobile devices.

Stolen phones

Opponents of the system have also raised questions on the timing of its implementation coming several months to the election, given that the system has the ability to cut off some mobile phones from networks. But the communications regulator continued to train its guns on mobile operators for sabotaging a process that they were part of from the beginning.

The authority said it had no intention to start snooping on customers’ information arguing that the system will only serve to crack down on illegal mobile devices operating in the market without infringing on consumers’ privacy.

“DMS will be populated by data of all genuine devices whitelisted to uniquely identify each device. It shall facilitate denial of service to illegal telecommunication devices including SIM boxes, counterfeits, substandard and stolen phones,” said Wangusi.

The authority says it has already identified a contractor to carry out the exercise and stopping it would be costly. A Kenyan-based company, Broadband Communications, was awarded the contract to install the system and is working with a Lebanese company – Invigo Off-Shore Sal of Berytech Technology Centre, Beirut, Lebanon.

The regulator explained that the device will be relying on electronic interchange register (EIR) to crack down on illegal devices and will not have access to SIM tool kit where customers’ information is usually stored.

Wangusi accused mobile operators of being beneficiaries of  some of the illegal calls terminating in Kenya, that generate about Sh38 million every week illegally. “They (mobile operators) are jittery because if we put that system there, we are going to switch off those illegal terminations,” he said.

The regulator said that the device will be installed and then followed by three months of consumer education before operationalisation.

Proliferation of counterfeit devices in Kenya, the regulator said, was not only a security threat but also denied the taxman billions of shillings. The Kenya Human Rights Commission said it was appalled by the flagrant disregard for the Constitution of Kenya (2010) by the Communications Authority, which directed that telecommunication companies allow it to plant gadgets on all networks in the country.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya has threatened to sue mobile operators and the authority if they go ahead to implement the system.

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