“REGISTER OR LOSE YOUR LINE! To safeguard you from phone-related crimes such as fraud, kidnapping and hate speech.” This had been the message in a campaign by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) urging those who have not registered their lines to do so before the given deadline which was the 31st of December 2012. It was estimated that over six million mobile subscribers were not registered which is about 20% of the total number of active SIM cards. Reports indicated that operators delayed disconnecting some of their unregistered clients for fear of losing out on revenue. This led to Information PS Bitange Ndemo to issue a warning to mobile firms that a fine of Sh300,000 for every unregistered SIM card will be applied. The same penalty will also apply to unregistered mobile subscribers whose lines are still operating.
SIM SWITCH OFF
By Friday 4th January, more than 1.28 million unregistered SIM cards had been switched off with Safaricom leading the pack switching off 800,000, followed by yuMobile at 290,000, Orange 120,000 and Airtel 70,830. However, it is still unclear if all the unregistered SIM cards have been switched off.
HATE CRIME, FRAUD AND KIDNAPPING
The decision to register all SIM cards in use was propelled by increasing cases of mobile phone related crimes including spreading of hate messages, mobile money fraud and kidnappings among others. The registration of SIM cards has taken more than two years to be finalised due to lack of legal backing when it was first announced. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) had tabled the regulatory Bill on the floor of parliament that would give the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) and itself, the power to regulate language use on the internet as well as the power to prosecute inciters. This would give the CCK the authority to monitor phone and internet messages.
The industry regulator however, is still powerless though because the regulations, which were supposed to be published in a special gazette notice on Friday 4th 2013 after parliament approved them, are still lying in the AG’s office. Even so the CCK promised to take action against unregistered subscribers as soon as the regulations are out.
WHY PUNISH THE PUBLIC?
Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) termed the punitive measures as harsh and unnecessary, which according to Cofek Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro caused unnecessary anxiety among the public. Mr. Mutoro questioned why subscribers would be punished if the disconnection is conducted by mobile service providers. “You cannot punish subscribers for failure of the mobile phone service companies to act”, Mutoro said.
HOW ABOUT SOME PRIVACY?
It appears in the fight against hate speech and fraud, privacy comes second to public security. This has caused public outrage as it is seen as an infringement into their constitutional right to privacy. So is public security more important than privacy?
ACCORDING TO THE CONSTITUTION
Under Section 31(d) of the New Constitution, ‘Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have-the privacy of their communications infringed. In section 238 1(b) of the New Constitution, national security shall be pursued in compliance with the law and with the utmost respect for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms’.
It further says under 238 (1)(a) that, ‘national security is subject to the authority of this Constitution and Parliament’.
In the new Constitution, therefore, it shows that privacy (human rights and fundamental freedoms) should come first before national security. So does NCIC have a solid legal backing to invade people’s privacy?
Electronic media has become the main communication tool in this day and age and most communications including confidential information are sent through electronic media like mobile phone and the internet. Though it is public knowledge that SMS were widely used to send inciting messages during the 2007/2008 election period, either the constitution is being breached or it is not clear enough on what is more important to the public.
A NEW BREEDING GROUND FOR CORRUPTION
IS INFORMATION SAFE WITH THE GOVERNMENT?Some feel that this has created an avenue for unscrupulous people to extort the people of Kenya under the guise of monitoring incitement. With Kenya being one of the most corrupt countries in Africa, one would not be surprised if this initiative would not attract new ways of blackmailing the Kenyan people. There have already been complaints that people’s phones and social media accounts being hacked into.
According to reports, members of the public have had their names in the applications forms of parties at the Registrar offices without them knowing. One of the Kenya Forum correspondents found out that he has been registered in The National Alliance Party (TNA) secretly. How do these parties get this information which is in the government database? Is the government using public information to help some political parties to gain power?
The Kenya Forum agrees that hate speech and other criminal acts should be stopped but what is a concern to the public is how the government is going to protect the privacy of Kenyans whilst at the same time protecting the security of the public.