Kenya's communications sector regulator has claimed that complaints by Rwanda over usage of unregistered phones by Kenyan fraudsters was behind the planned installation of a call and text monitoring system that telecom operators have branded a spying tool.
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) says in court papers that Rwanda complained it was losing revenue from international calls originated by Kenyan fraudsters, which prompted it to plan for installation of the controversial device management system (DMS).
CA director- general Francis Wangusi says in the court filings that Rwanda has made several complaints to Kenya regarding fraudsters who use devices called SIM boxes to disguise overseas calls as local ones, hence costing telcos revenue.
SIM box technology is used to illegally route international calls to appear as local ones, a move that undercuts telcos which charge separately for local and international dials.
Mr Wangusi claims that the DMS will be able to curb the SIM box menace.
The planned installation of the DMS, however, caused wide uproar as it was seen as an invasion of phone users’ privacy, with even the telecom operators openly opposing the CA’s plans.
But the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) holds that narrowing the ground on fraudsters is just an excuse, adding that the DMS will grant the CA unfettered access to confidential phone data in violation of privacy laws.
The KHRC has sued the CA, Attorney- General Githu Muigai, Safaricom, Airtel, and Telkom to stop installation of the DMS.
Justice John Mativo on Tuesday ordered the parties to appear before him on June 19.
Prof Muigai has objected to the suit, arguing that implementation of the DMS and its management through third parties falls under the CA’s legal mandate.
None of the other sued parties has responded to the suit.
The lobby, through lawyer Manasses Mwangi, holds that the mystery shrouding the DMS acquisition, its potential to create a backdoor to access confidential phone records and the CA’s exclusion from confidentiality contracts with phone users is reason enough to halt its implementation.
“The CA has received complaints from its counterparts within the bloc, in particular Rwanda that sim boxing operations in Kenya are being used to terminate international traffic, which seemingly appears to be originating from a Kenyan operator into Rwanda resulting into loss of revenue for the country.”
“Therefore challenges like sim boxing are becoming a concern for international relations within the regional bloc,” Mr Wangusi says in court filings.
Mr Wangusi has also blamed the evolution of mobile phone counterfeiters, who now clone serial numbers for illegal devices, for the resort to use the DMS.
But the KHRC argues that the CA has in place sufficient systems to stop the counterfeit goods from operation without using the DMS.
KHRC director George Kegoro holds that professionals like doctors, lawyers, religious leaders and other lobbies will risk having privileged information accessed by third parties if the DMS is allowed to operate.
“The system is to be installed and managed by third parties who are not State corporations and who are not bound by rules and statutory provisions on confidentiality and the owners of the (mobile phone) devices will not be privy to the agreements with the contracted company,” Mr Kegoro argues.
The CA says that the KHRC’s petition and another filed by activist Okiya Omtatah are premature as it is still at the consultations stage with stakeholders on the DMS.
Mr Omtatah has in a separate petition obtained temporary orders barring the CA from installing the DMS.