Communications Authority of Kenya Says Not Planning to Spy On Mobile Phone Users


The Communications Authority of Kenya denies plans to use the yet to be installed Device Management System to spy on its users after various media platforms reported so.

The CA denies that the Device Management System (DMS) is not for monitoring and accessing private data of mobile phone users and the government has not asked it to install it.

According to CA, the DMS amis to curb SIM-boxing, which is used by unscrupulous people to illegally divert and terminate telecommunications traffic, not only poses a security threat but also leads to loss of revenue to both mobile operators and government through evasion of taxes.

The Authority added that implementation of this system is also intended to meet the requirements of the East African Region under the Northern Corridor Integration Project Heads of State Summit, which directed each member state to deploy systems that curb illegal by-pass and termination of telecommunications traffic within the context of the ‘One Network Area’.

“It is against this background that the Authority has continued to revamp the framework for the management of illegal telecom devices in the country,” said Francis Wangusi, the Director General at CA. “Indeed the acquisition of a Device Management System (DMS) is the second phase of the initial initiative that saw Mobile Network Operators switch off all counterfeit mobile devices in Kenya in 2010.”

Wangusi in a statement added that the Authority, following extensive consultation with industry and other stakeholders including COFEK, facilitated the set up of an SMS-based mobile device verification service, through use of the “1555” short code for use by consumers in confirming the status of mobile devices before purchase. The set up of the device verification system was undertaken with the understanding that there would be a second phase that would involve deployment of a more comprehensive system that would address importation of illegal devices, pre-shipment verification of devices as well as denial of service of devices already in the market.

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The DMS is the second phase of the system in order to manage the menace of counterfeit devices.  CA added that the system is being deployed in close consultation with the local mobile network operators. Contrary to the claims raised through COFEK, the implementation of the system is being coordinated by a team that has the involvement of the mobile network operators, CA and other relevant government agencies.

“The DMS is a comprehensive system that is not only able to manage entry of devices into the country but equally prevent access of illegal communication devices to mobile telecommunications services. The DMS will be populated by data of all genuine devices (a whitelist), to uniquely identify each device,” he said. “Once deployed, the DMS shall facilitate denial of service to all illegal communications devices within the country including SIM boxes, counterfeit, substandard, non-type approved and stolen devices.”

The DMS has capability to isolate and deny services to the illegal devices as they have the potential of being used by those with criminal intent to compromise security.

It is important to note here that the system is deployed in a manner that facilitates mobile network operators to make reference to the database of all genuine devices (a whitelist) to solely verify the status of the phone device before providing service to the user.  This is contrary to reports that the system will be extracting subscriber data for use by third parties.

All mobile operators will be required to connect to the DMS and ensure that blacklisted devices do not access mobile services.  This process was initiated with the understanding of the operators through a consultative process from the conceptualization stage.

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CA also added that the system does not access subscriber personal information details, and therefore cannot access personal data as claimed in a section of the social and local media. It added, it has been consulting and has engaged industry stakeholders and relevant Government Agencies in an effort to manage the proliferation of illegal mobile communications devices.

The Agencies consulted include the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), National Police Service (NPS) and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and all mobile operators.

Prior to deploying the system, the Authority is planning to roll out consumer awareness to increase the understanding of the scope and impact of this system to users of illegal communication devices.

According to Wangusi, the proliferation of counterfeit devices, often illegally imported and acquired by the public, presents a serious challenge to mobile networks and subscribers. Besides compromising the optimization of mobile networks, such illegal devices degrade the quality of service available to users.  The use of counterfeit devices poses a great security threat, because such devices do not provide for effective identification or traceability of network transactions/users. The DMS aims to end that.