Kenya’s biggest telco Safaricom and the sector regulator are facing a second class action suit in four weeks after two senior advocates moved to court, accusing the firm of forcing subscribers to sign a data privacy statement that allows the company to collect bank account details.
Senior counsel Wilfred Nderitu and Charles Kanjama say in a case filed at the High Court that their SIM cards were suspended on October 15 and that they were forced to re-register to enjoy services and products offered by Safaricom.
While signing the statement, Mr Nderitu says, a clause that stated that some of the information required would be about his credit or debit card, bank account numbers and Swift code and other banking details caught his attention.
“I was appalled by this provision as I did not understand the correlation on the information to be collected and the SIM registration exercise,” he says.
The statement, he says, provided that the company would collect his personal information with his knowledge and consent whenever he carries out any of Safaricom’s services.
This is the second class action suit against Safaricom and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) after a businessman, Abdi Zeila, sued the giant telco over SIM-swap fraud that has seen scammers drain millions of shillings from mobile phone subscribers’ bank accounts.
Mr Zeila has invited other victims through the class action suit to have Safaricom cited for negligence and liability for lost cash.
He wants the CA to be found negligent of its regulatory duties by allegedly failing to ensure Safaricom is providing services that are secured from fraudsters.
The US-style class action suit is where one or several people sue on behalf of a much larger group, and if successful all consumers aggrieved stand to get compensated.
In the latest case, Mr Nderitu says being the telecommunications company with the biggest customer base, the stringent mechanisms, and crafty ways of collecting data without assurance of data security are precipitated by the thought that its clients have no option but opt-in for them to continue enjoying the products and services offered.
The two advocates want the court to grant a temporary order stopping Safaricom from effecting the Data Privacy Statement.
They say if not restrained, and the company goes ahead with the forced re-registration, there is a real danger that their rights will be violated, causing them harm that cannot be compensated by way of damages.
They have also sought the court’s permission to institute a class action suit on their behalf and other interested registered subscribers of Safaricom, who were aggrieved by the suspension of their lines on October 15.
Mr Nderitu says he has been a Safaricom subscriber for the past 23 years and a registered M-Pesa user since 2007.
Mr Kanjama says he has been a Safaricom subscriber for more than 20 years. “That on 15th October 2022, I learnt with utter shock and dismay that my SIM card had been suspended. As a result, I could not make calls, send messages, access my M-Pesa wallet or make any payments,” Mr Kanjama said.
The CA had in February this year directed mobile operators to ensure registration details of all its subscribers by April 15 as per the Kenya Information and Communications (Registration of SIM-cards) regulations. The deadline was extended by six months.
Mr Nderitu says when he registered his line over two decades ago, he gave his identity card to an authorised dealer and was successfully registered.
But on October 15, he received a message telling him to register his number and thought it was a mistake.
He registered the line but says the process unreasonably burdens him as a subscriber to ensure the SIM-card is registered yet Safaricom has all the details required for registration.
“This does not rhyme with my legitimate expectation that once I have registered and been on-boarded onto the platform, the 1st defendant (Safaricom) has a duty to ensure that I enjoy unfettered access to the products and services for as long as I pay the predetermined rates,” he says.
The services include registration of SIM-card, post-pay subscriptions, M-Pesa and M-Pesa-powered services.
The lawyers say they are aware of numerous people who have the same claim and might be willing to join the case.
“I verily believe that such numerous subscribers who have the same interest as the plaintiffs herein will be catered for if this court grants leave to the plaintiffs to continue this suit as a class action suit and such joinder will be instrumental in preventing multiplicity of suits,” Mr Nderitu says.