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Economy

Telcos’ face fines for mobile phone crimes

Unregistered lines represent about a fifth of the 30 million lines in use in Kenya. Photo/FILE
Unregistered lines represent about a fifth of the 30 million lines in use in Kenya. Photo/FILE  

Mobile telephone operators face more penalties in the New Year arising from the use of more than six million unregistered lines, some of which have been used for criminal activities.

The penalties are contained in new regulations set to be gazetted any time from Tuesday.

Information and Communications permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said the rules could be published as early as Friday, prescribing the liabilities that would befall the four operators — Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and yU Mobile — if fraud, extortion, kidnappings and hate speech are traced back to their customers’ unregistered lines.

“Mobile operators will bear the intermediary liability in that they become an accomplice by failure to register the SIM card or cards,” Dr Ndemo told the Business Daily in a telephone interview.

The Communications Commission of Kenya had earlier announced that the deadline for blocking unregistered lines would not be extended from last night when the world ushered in the New Year.

“The commission has no intention whatsoever of extending the deadline beyond midnight today (last night). All unregistered SIM cards shall therefore be suspended from service,” said Mutua Muthusi, the CCK director for consumer and public affairs.

The unregistered lines, which would be deactivated after 90 days if the owners do not come forward, represent about a fifth of the 30 million lines in use in Kenya.

Yesterday, the telcos’ service centers were beehives of activities as subscribers rushed to beat the deadline which would see them locked out of voice, data and value-added services such as money transfers.

Dr Ndemo said the new regulations would hold operators liable if any crime was committed through the SIM cards. “Any aggrieved person can sue the telecommunication firms for any crimes committed using the unregistered SIM cards. It will be upon the mobile operators to reveal the identity of the person,” said Dr Ndemo. 

The past few months have recorded an increase in reported kidnappings, mostly perpetuated through mobile phones. Some of the victims were killed after their families failed to pay the ransoms demanded by the criminals.

CCK is enforcing the registration under the Miscellaneous Amendment Act No 12 of 2012 on the Kenya Information and Communication Act which compels mobile operators to keep a register of the people they provide services to.

Under the Kenya Information Act, the mobile operators face a fine of Sh500,000 for any breach of the Act.

CCK indicated Monday that by last Friday, 80.4 per cent of the 30 million SIM cards had been registered. Safaricom, the largest operator, had 2.9 million subscribers unregistered out of its 19.6 million subscribers. Airtel had not registered 822,526 out of 4.7 million subscribers.

Orange and Essar had 1,278,193 and 1,131,632 unregistered respectively. Orange has 3,279,509 subscribers while Essar’s yU has 3,233,234. 
Yesterday’s deadline marks the end of a switch-off plan first set for implementation in 2009 but postponed several times due to lack of legal backing.

In July 2009, President Kibaki directed that all mobile SIM cards be registered but the process started a year later after the legal processes were implemented. The operators have been held back from a switch-off by fear of possible legal suits from their clients. This has given criminals, including those incarcerated in maximum security prisons, a field day as they use their unregistered phones to extort or con their victims.

Former Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta proposed in his 2011/2012 Budget speech that identification become a legal requirement through the Finance Bill 2011 to tame criminals.

To register SIM cards, subscribers are required to give their full names, physical and postal addresses, date of birth, and physical and alternative contacts to the service providers. Companies and individual subscribers, including minors, are required to register their SIM cards through the names of their shareholders, parents or guardians. Organisations and small businesses will have to provide users with their official numbers and physical location. Parents have to register lines on behalf of their children.

After encountering a legal barrier, Safaricom last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Kenya Prisons Service for installation of mobile phone jamming equipment to block fraudulent calls and M-Pesa transactions in prisons.

The firm’s signal tracking data indicates that most of phone-related fraud originates from prisons with 1,500 fraudulent SMS and calls being made from the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in July 2011.

The prison accounted for 65 per cent of the incidents in that month with the crimes also rife at Nakuru, Meru, Kibos and Shimo la Tewa prisons.

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