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Are Kenyans about to get a Big Brother to Spy on their Text, Phone Calls, Social Media?

by Milicent Atieno
communication authority of kenya big brother spying safaricom

The current political climate in Kenya is without a doubt polarized. While that is expected with any country set to go for the general elections in a little over a month’s time. Still, Kenya is facing a new kind of challenge; the challenge of an ‘all-seeing, all-knowing’ Big Brother putting his nose where it doesn’t belong.

These are the allegations being leveled against the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), which is installing a Device Management System (DMS) into telecommunications service networks, of potentially getting unauthorized access to users private information.

The CA says the DMS will allow it execute its function as a regulator to contain the use of fake and stolen devices in telecommunication networks. Kenya’s leading telecommunications service provider, Safaricom, says the failure by the CA to address its concerns over third parties getting unauthorized access to subscribers’ information warrants cause for alarm.communication authority of kenya big brother spying safaricom

Safaricom has been consistent in making it public that it is uncomfortable with the CA’s move to install the DMS in telecommunications networks. The telecom says the CA has consistently failed to address privacy and security concerns they have about the DMS. The telecom also made it very clear that the installation of the DMS opens up room for third parties to eavesdrop in subscribers’ phone details.

That could mean, subscribers communications; calls, SMS, social media messages, and data exchange could be monitored by the government through the DMS the CA is installing. Just so you know, there has never been a better time to encrypt your online activities in the history of Kenya as now. The big brother threat is often something Kenyans read about in countries such as the United States. It might be time now we take our data security and privacy seriously.

The effect is that our subscribers shall desist or reduce using their devices, in effect reversing the progress we have made in making communication easier for our subscribers,” – writes Safaricom in a court paper.

Safaricom is particularly appalled by the CA’s move to install the DMS before addressing the concerns the company has raised as a mobile service carrier. The CA’s move has been described as arbitrary and autocratic in nature.

The CA is already in high gears

Indeed the CA is at an advanced stage of deploying the DMS. It has already contracted the Broadband Communications Networks Ltd, to tender the delivery, installation, testing, commissioning, and maintenance of the DMS device.

Counterfeits ought to be stopped at import points

Safaricom rubbishes CA’s claims that the DMS is intended to curtail the use of counterfeit devices in the market. The telecom argues that the fight against counterfeit ought to be taken at their entry point into the market; stopping their importation into Kenya, not after their local purchase by consumers in the market.

Safaricom also says that by the Constitution the CA is not allowed by law to execute such an installation before addressing all concerns by the relevant stakeholders.

“It is clear that the instant petition has been filed due to the fact that CA has not involved the public to understand the purpose of the DMS,” – writes Safaricom in its court papers.

CA’s counter argument on Spying on Phone Conversations

The CA says the application filed by one activist Okiya Omtatah, against the DMS installation is alarmist and out of ignorance. The activist alleges that the CA plans to use the device to eavesdrop on Kenyans private conversations over the phone.

communication authority of kenya big brother spying safaricom 1

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director General Francis Wangusi

The CA goes further to state that they should be allowed to execute their duties, further adding that interruption of the installation of the DMS by court cases amounts to usurping its powers as the regulator. The case is currently in court awaiting mentioning come September 20th, 2017.

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