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Safaricom affirms opposition to CA’s calls snooping device

Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO. file photo | nmg
Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO. file photo | nmg 

Telecoms operator Safaricom #ticker:SCOM has confirmed its rejection of a device the telecommunications sector regulator, the CA, wants mobile phone companies to install arguing third parties could use it to listen to calls, read messages and view its customers’ financial transactions.

Safaricom argues in suit papers filed in court that the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has failed to address the concerns despite months of engagement on the matter.

Safaricom, which is Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator, insists that installation of the Device Management System (DMS) could hurt the telecoms sector and reduce use of mobile phone telecommunication over the threat of surveillance.

“The effect is that our subscribers shall desist or reduce using their devices, in effect reversing the progress we have made in making communication easier for our subscribers,” Safaricom says.

The CA, however, insists that the DMS is not a spying device, but a tool it needs to fight the use of counterfeit phones in Kenya.

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Safaricom further argues that the CA’s disregard of the mobile phone operators’ concerns and the installation of the equipment will be arbitrary and contrary to the legal provisions that require such action to be subjected to public debate because of the risk it poses to the right to privacy.

The CA has awarded Broadband Communications Networks Ltd (BCNL) the tender to deliver, install, test, commission and maintain the contested device whose execution must now await the court decision.

The Kenya Information and Communication Act, which created the CA, does not grant the regulator powers to arbitrarily interfere with the communication devices by tapping, listening to, surveilling or intercepting communications and related data, Safaricom has argued, adding that such a move must be in line with Articles 31 (right to privacy), 40 (right to property), and 47 (right to fair administrative action) of the Constitution.

Safaricom made public its position on the controversial order in response to an application a Nairobi activist, Okiya Omtatah, has filed against installation of DMS.

The CA had initially written to Safaricom, Airtel and Orange, demanding that the contractor be allowed into the operators’ sites to install the snooping device. The CA, which has in the past cracked down on counterfeit mobile phones by switching off 1.5 million fake gadgets in 2012, says it needs an advanced monitoring device to rid the market of the problem.

Safaricom argues that the counterfeits CA intends to block are imported and any efforts to stop their proliferation should start at the point of entry into the country and not after consumers have bought fake devices.

But the regulator insists it should be allowed to carry out its mandate, adding that stopping the installation of DMS would amount to the usurpation of its regulatory authority.
The case will be mentioned on September 20.

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