Kenyan security agencies intimidate mobile service providers to spy on civilians communication, a UK-based firm, Privacy International (PI) has said.
In a report released on Wednesday, PI says the security forces violate citizen's privacy in the name of fighting terrorism.
The damning report names the National Intelligence Service, the Anti Terrorism Police Unit and other police formations as the major perpetrators.
A Communications Authority of Kenya official interviewed by PI confirmed the account, saying the telecoms risk getting their licences revoked if they do not comply.
“The National Intelligence Service (NIS) intercepts both communication content and acquires call data records without warrants to gather intelligence and prevent crime," the report says, adding that police agencies acquire communications data with warrants to prepare criminal cases.
The report claims that in Kenya, law enforcement agents are physically present within telecommunications operators’ facilities, formally, with the service providers’ knowledge.
"NIS agents are also informally present in the telecommunication operators’ facilities, apparently undercover," the document says, adding that the major telecoms have at least one law enforcement liaison, a police officer of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), on secondment.
It claims that at one of the mobile service providers, around 10 DCI officers sit on one floor of the central bloc and that these officers provide information to all police branches.
The report dubbed 'Track, Capture, Kill- Inside Communications Surveillance and Counterterrorism in Kenya' states that NIS regularly shares information with police agencies, some of whom have been engaged in gross human rights abuses.
The human right violations, it states, have been cited by multiple independent media, civil society and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) investigations.
"Abuses in counter-terrorism are occurring against a backdrop of widespread law enforcement corruption and impunity," the report indicates.
It states that one in three Kenyans has been subject to ill treatment at the hands of the police.
The investigation, which also explores the potential impact of unaccountable communications surveillance on the upcoming 2017 election cycle, states that Kenyans have lost trust in the security agencies.
The government, the report says, cites the threat of terrorism and the ethnic violence following the 2007 elections to justify stricter regulations on speech and closer surveillance of Kenyans’ communications.
In December 2014, the Kenyan Parliament passed a security bill- the Security Laws (Amendment) Act - which introduced a new amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Under the Act, the Cabinet Secretary is tasked with making new regulations to govern communications interception by the “national security organs” when related to terrorism investigations.
The “national security organs” are defined widely in Article 239 of the Constitution as the Kenya Defence Forces, NIS and the Kenya Police Service.
It is unclear if these rules, which have yet to be articulated, would still require the National Security Organs to obtain warrants to intercept communications, as set out in previous laws.
But some mobile service providers have denied the claims in the report, saying they only allow police to access subscribers' records when courts order them to do so.
Safaricom Chief Executive Bob Collymore, in a response letter to PI, said that the firm only provides information as required by courts and upon receipt of relevant court orders.
“We believe that customers have fundamental right to privacy… ensuring that right is respected is one of our highest priorities,” the Business Daily, a member of the Nation Media Group stable, reports Mr Collymore as saying.
The Nation's efforts to reach National Police Spokesperson George Kinoti and Kenya Police Spokesperson Charles Owino on Thursday were futile, as they said they were in a meeting.
Efforts by the Business Daily to get a response on Wednesday were equally unsuccessful.