In Summary
  • The government, through the Communications Authority of Kenya, has ordered mobile phone companies to allow it to tap their computers.
  • Usually, governments can listen to private conversations and access personal data, but by law they need to have a good reason and get a warrant from a judge.

From Tuesday, the government wants to be allowed to listen to your calls, read your text messages and review your mobile money transactions.

The government, through the Communications Authority of Kenya, has ordered mobile phone companies to allow it to tap their computers.

The tapping into these computers will be done by a company contracted by the agency.

Though the reason given for the tapping is tracking counterfeit devices, the minute it starts, 40 million Kenyans will lose their privacy.

GAIN ACCESS

Usually, governments can listen to private conversations and access personal data, but by law they need to have a good reason and get a warrant from a judge.

Additionally, Kenya has no data protection law, so people who gain access to others’ personal information can abuse it.

The authority has already written to mobile phone service providers setting up dates for the plugging of the snooping device, with some as close as Tuesday next week.

It will involve the third party company getting hooked up to all routers at Safaricom, Airtel and Orange Telkom, effectively opening up private communication data to an entity other than those licensed to hold them and the government.

LETTER TO OPERATORS

The Nation has obtained a copy of a letter addressed to one of the operators, asking it to authorise the third party to install the link that would open up SMS, call and mobile money transfer data to the third party as the plan takes shape quietly.

“Kindly facilitate our principal contractor, M/S Broadband Communications Networks Ltd, to access your site and install the link at the data-centre or the mobile switching room.

"The link should terminate close to the core network elements that shall integrate to the DMS solution.

"The DMS block diagram and integration requirements for this setup was shared with your technical team on January 17, 2017,” read the letter signed by the authority’s director, licensing, compliance and standards Christopher Kemei on behalf of the director-general.

UNCLEAR ROLES
Broadband Communications Services Ltd was awarded the Sh207.2 million tender to design, supply, deliver, install, test, commission and maintain the device in September 2016.

Before the hook-up, the authority and the contractor were to survey all the operators’ sites and a January 31 letter announced the intended visit.

But in a strange twist, the regulator later converted the survey into the actual installation, heightening suspicion.

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