Kenyan to begin crackdown on counterfeit phones

The government of Kenya, through the country’s Communication Authority (CA), has revealed plans to install Device Management Systems (DMS) on phones to crack down on counterfeit devices and prevent theft. 

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo, appearing before the Senate ICT Committee in Nairobi, said DMS will help deal with Sim Boxing which is among the most demanding challenges telecom operations face globally

“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,” said Owalo.

“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,” he added. 

DMS implementation process in Kenya began back in 2016 but was stopped by the courts. During that period, the Authority engaged with mobile network operators, asking them to provide it with access to information on International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI), International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), Mobile Station Integrated Services Digital Network (MSISDN), and Call Detail Records (CDRs) of their customers.

The aim was for CA’s technicians to conduct a survey and install the DMS system, a move that raised concerns about eavesdropping on customers and infringement of privacy.  At some point, Kenya’s leading telco Safaricom had even declined the regulator’s request to roll out DMS on its network after it failed to adequately address Safaricom’s queries on data privacy. Safaricom had raised concerns that monitoring devices would give the regulator access to other customer data held by telecom operators.

A constitutional petition was then filed at the High Court challenging the implementation but in April this year, the Supreme Court dismissed the suit giving the CA the greenlight to install the system on phones. 

CS Owalo told the committee that CA work closely with different government agencies including the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) and Kenya Bureau of Standards to investigate and pursue any counterfeit devices as well as ensure that device standards are adhered to. He added that the implementation will done in strict compliance with the Constitution and all other relevant laws in the country and is not intended to spy on citizens’ communication.

According to a 2019 report by the Anti-Counterfeit Agency, the most counterfeited items in Kenya are phones at 51.8%. Kenya hopes to reduce this with this crackdown. 

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