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State defends plan to snoop on Kenyans

By Paul Wafula and Patrick Alushula | February 18th 2017
Information CS Joe Mucheru

The Government will not suspend the controversial system that mobile firms fear could be used to snoop on private communication. The Communications Authority (CA) Friday said it would not stop the planned process to plant the gadgets on all the mobile networks in the country.

But the Kenya Human Rights Commission hit out at the authority, terming the move contrary to the Constitution. “Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed. It has now emerged that the sanctity of this constitutional provision is under threat by the government through the CA,” the human rights commission said.

The exercise is scheduled to begin on Tuesday next week, will entail creating a pipe between the operators and the communication authority where information on mobile phones will be shared.

Mobile 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.

The Information Ministry said it was aware about the system and had been briefed by the CA on its use. Information CS Joe Mucheru however said the Government would issue a comprehensive statement later.

Opponents of the system have also raised questions on the timing of its implementation coming months to the General Election. But the communications regulator Friday turned the heat on mobile operators for leaking ‘private communication’ regarding the system to the media.

The authority said the system known as the Device Management System (DMS) will only serve to crack down on illegal mobile devices operating in the market without infringing on consumers’ privacy.

The authority has already identified a contractor to carry out the exercise and stopping it will be costly.

Broadband Communications, a company based in Kenya, was awarded the contract to install the system and it is working with a Lebanese company — Invigo Off-Shore Sal of Berytech Technology Centre, Beirut, Lebanon.

Implementation of the system is also intended to meet the requirements of the East African region under the Northern Corridor Integration Project Heads of State summit.

The summit directed that each member state deploys systems that curb illegal bypass and termination of telecommunications traffic within the context of one area network.

But pressure started mounting on the commission to come out and explain why it kept consumers in the dark until the time the plan was leaked to the media.

Safaricom’s Corporate Affairs Director, Steve Chege, confirmed receipt of a letter from CA to the effect that the DMS shall integrate to the network’s core network systems.

Meanwhile, activist Okiya Omtatah has petitioned the High Court to stop CA’s move. In an urgent suit, Omtatah argued that the Government’s intention to plant gadgets in mobile telephone service providers systems to obtain data and details of mobile devices was illegal and a violation of the public right to privacy.

The activist wants orders stopping implementation of the directive until the suit is heard and determined. The application was certified as urgent and set for hearing on Monday.

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