Saturday, May 18, 2024

Kenya Begins Government Surveillance as Regulator Implements Phone Monitoring System

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The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has been given a nod to install the Device Management System, a tool that monitors text messages and phone calls in a bid to identify any case of fraud. The system was proposed more than six years ago, but it wasn’t implemented thanks to legal hurdles, as well as pushback from telcos such as Safaricom, which explicitly stated that it would not install the tool on its network.


Back in 2017, the CA faced public outcry over plans to acquire the controversial Device Management System (DMS). However, the regulatory body through its then Director General the late Francis Wangusi defended its decision, citing complaints from Rwanda about Kenyans making illegal international calls.

Reportedly, Kenyan fraudsters use SIM boxes to disguise international calls as local ones, causing operators to lose revenue. This fraud, known as SIM Box Fraud, costs telcos billions of dollars globally.

In the same year, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) opposed CA’s plan to install the DMS to combat fraud, as it violated privacy laws.

The KHRC then filed a lawsuit against telcos and the CA. KHRC was concerned about the system accessing privileged information for professionals.

It also argued that third-party companies would manage the system, and mobile phone owners would not have access to the agreements.

In Safaricom’s case, it rejected CA’s proposal to install DMS, citing concerns that the CA had not addressed. Safaricom was worried that the installation of the DMS would drive customers away, reversing the progress made in making communication easier for subscribers.

In 2020, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the installation of the spying tool by the CA on mobile networks, while activist Okiya Omtatah had previously lodged a complaint with the High Court.

The High Court previously ruled that Omtatah’s case had no grounds as the DMS was still in its early stages of development.

Courts in support of DMS

Just the other day, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Law Society of Kenya against the Court of Appeal’s decision to permit CA to proceed with developing DMS.

The court dismissed the LSK’s appeal because they were not involved in the case before the High Court or the Court of Appeal and were therefore considered a stranger to the matter.

Since the system has now been allowed to go live by the courts, it is possible that telcos and people in general fear it will enable government surveillance.

However, the ICT regulator denies it can access customer data beyond unique phone identification and assigned subscriber numbers.

Samuel Musila
Samuel Musila
Passionate Software Developer and Tech content creator From Nairobi, Kenya

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