Monitoring of mobile phone networks to take effect - agency says

Saturday February 18 2017

Francis Wangusi

Communications Authority Director-General Francis Wangusi addresses the media on February 17, 2017 at Intercontinental Hotel. He said the Device Management System (DMS) plan is good for the country. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The government has said it will go ahead with a plan to install a monitoring system on mobile phone networks despite a public outcry.

Defending the Device Management System (DMS), Communication Authority Director-General Francis Wangusi said he would not stop its implementation, not even for public consultation.

Mr Wangusi said the DMS had been in the works for almost a year and that consultation with mobile operators was sufficient.

He said a proliferation of illegal communication devices in Kenya demanded quick adoption of the system.

“If we want to protect this country from such predatory behaviour, we should not backtrack from the plan,” he said.

The CA boss added that vendor contracts prevented it from changing the project’s timelines.

There are concerns that the DMS might be used to intercept calls and text messages.

The system is being implemented by Kenyan firm Broadband Communications and Lebanese company Invigo for Sh207 million. 

Tender documents indicate that the DMS will sit on mobile networks, collecting data on the type of devices that are active.

The stated aim is to identify stolen handsets, counterfeit phones as well as devices that have not been type-approved by the government.

A whitelist of legitimate phones would be developed.

A blacklist will contain phones to be blocked from network access.

Insiders have told the Nation that the system’s capabilities extend beyond what is being stated and that the government is simply cloaking a plan to eavesdrop on private conversations.

Of more concern is a government plan to share some of the data collected through the DMS with law enforcement and revenue and anti-counterfeit agencies.

It is not clear how CA will protect customer privacy once the information is with the other agencies.

Mobile operators have met the authority to express concerns over the plan.

They are reluctant to submit customer data to third parties, which they are legally required to protect.

If CA has its way, Broadband Communications will begin installing the system on Tuesday.

Installation could be over by the end of the month.

However, protests against the system are gathering momentum.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said it was “appalled by the flagrant disregard” for the Constitution and urged telcos to resist the authority’s move.

Activist Okiya Omtatah on Thursday filed a case challenging the implementation of the DMS.

He said spying on Kenyans violated the law.

Mr Omtatah asked the court to grant orders stopping the authority and Broadband Communications from effecting the project until the case is determined.

In 2012, CA and mobile operators came to blows when the government attempted to install a system that would have intercepted private emails.