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Kenya launches crackdown on counterfeit mobile devices

By , Kenya Correspondent
Kenya , 04 Dec 2023
ICT cabinet secretary Eliud Owalo.
ICT cabinet secretary Eliud Owalo.

Kenya's government, via the country's Communication Authority (CA), has announced plans to install Device Management Systems (DMS) on phones in order to combat counterfeit devices and prevent theft.

In an appearance before the Senate ICT Committee in Nairobi, ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo stated that DMS will assist in dealing with Sim Boxing, which is one of the most difficult difficulties that telecom operations confront globally.

SIM boxing also known as the interconnect bypass fraud, is one of the major frauds affecting the dynamic telecom market in Africa.

"The influx of counterfeit substandard and non-type approved devices in the country presents a huge problem to our society given the nature of mobile phone devices and their importance to us," Owalo stated.

"The Communication Authority of Kenya has set out to develop an effective technological solution to control the threat through the deployment of a system to automatically detect and disable end-user equipment that do not meet set criteria," the official said.

DMS implementation in Kenya began in 2016, but was halted by the courts. During that time, the Authority contacted mobile network operators and requested access to information on their customers' International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI), International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), Mobile Station Integrated Services Digital Network (MSISDN), and Call Detail Records (CDRs).

CA's staff were supposed to conduct a survey and install the DMS system, which sparked worries about eavesdropping on clients and invasion of privacy. Safaricom, Kenya's major telco, has even denied the regulator's request to deploy DMS on its network after it failed to effectively address Safaricom's data privacy concerns. Safaricom was concerned that monitoring devices might allow the regulator to access other customer data stored by telecom carriers.

A constitutional case was subsequently brought in the High Court to challenge the implementation, but in April of this year, the Supreme Court dismissed the action, allowing the CA to install the system on phones.

According to Owalo, CA works together with other government agencies, including the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards, to investigate and pursue counterfeit devices, as well as to verify that device standards are followed. He further stated that the implementation will be carried out in strict accordance with the Constitution and all other applicable laws in the country, and that it is not designed to eavesdrop on citizens' communications.

According to a 2019 report by the Anti-Counterfeit Agency, phones account for 51.8% of all counterfeited commodities in Kenya. Kenya expects that this action will help to minimise it.

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