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State to switch off fake phones, stolen devices

By Macharia Kamau | Dec 30th 2021 | 3 min read
By Macharia Kamau | December 30th 2021
DCI officers inspecting some 294 mobile phones recovered in a house at Kaptembwo slums, Nakuru. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is in yet another attempt to switch off stolen and counterfeit mobile phones.

The ICT industry regulator said it will develop a database for all mobile devices in the country, which will separate the legit from illegal devices, with the latter being denied service by mobile network operators (MNOs).

This, CA said, is aimed at fighting fake and illegal phones that have found their way into the market.

In the draft guidelines, CA said mobile operators would deny services to subscribers using mobile phones whose international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers have been blacklisted by the regulator as they are counterfeit or have been acquired through dubious means such as theft.

IMEI number is unique to a mobile phone and is used in their identification. In the Guidelines for Addressing Counterfeit, Stolen and Illegal ICT Devices in Kenya, CA will require importers to submit the IMEI number of gadgets that they will be bringing into the market in future. This is expected to lock out any illegal mobile handsets and other ICT devices from entering the Kenyan market, according to CA.

“The authority shall establish a system to help combat the proliferation of counterfeit and illegal ICT devices as well as curb theft of ICT devices,” reads the guidelines, which CA published on Tuesday and invited Kenyans to submit views.

“The system will enable the registration of mobile devices, verification of IMEIs, identification of counterfeit, stolen or lost devices and illegal devices. The system shall function by analysing data dumps received from MNOs and generate a blacklist, a white list and a grey list.”

Mobile operators will be required to put in place systems in their networks that will enable them to integrate with the CA’s management system. CA said that the system would be integrated with the global IMEI database.

In the draft guidelines, CA also noted that the mobile operators will be required to deny services to subscribers with counterfeit and illegal devices but notify them first.

“The MNOs shall reference the system and deny access to their communication networks any IMEI that is blacklisted under the direction of the authority upon notification of the consumer,” read the guidelines.

“The MNO shall ensure access to emergency services for all their subscribers despite the status of their devices… The CA shall undertake necessary precautions to avoid the abuse of identifier and registration systems, respect consumer rights and protect consumers from arbitrary disconnection from networks.”

The guidelines also have provisions where consumers can report stolen gadgets that will then be added to the database that will make it difficult to sell stolen devices.

“Consumers will report stolen or lost devices to law enforcement agencies. The consumer may also report the same through a platform provided by the authority,” said CA.

Other than the theft of mobile phones, CA expects the guidelines to help deal with the problem of fake devices in Kenya. A 2020 study by the Anti Counterfeit Authority indicated that one in every five mobile phones being sold in the country is fake.

In 2012, it directed mobile operators to switch off counterfeit phones but did not bear much fruit owing to a lack of legal backing.

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