Malawi: Making RA a Human Rights Issue

In a previous post I highlighted the plans of Malawi’s regulator to implement a controversial new ‘spy’ system for the purpose of revenue assurance, amongst other reasons. Last week Malawi’s operators announced that the system, called the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS), had received the official go-ahead. They also gave a dire warning to their customers:

“Once the system has been implemented, the operators will no longer be in a position to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of customers’ communication activities, as we understand it to be our obligation under our respective operating licences, subscriber contracts, the communications Act (1998) and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi…”

In turn, the operators’ announcement prompted journalists to join the chorus of complaints; see here and here.

But that is not where the story ends. In a dramatic twist, a High Court injunction issued on Friday 14th October has prohibited the use of the system for gathering CDR data; see here. Malawi’s government is reportedly backing the implementation of the system, but its difficulties intensified when Malawi’s Vice President, Joyce Banda, publicly criticized the system as ‘unconstitutional’; see here.

Reading over the story, it feels like some concerns are exaggerated (I doubt the system will allow government to literally listen to voice calls) whilst others are genuine (the government probably will be able to read SMS messages, which is way beyond what is necessary to satisfy their stated objectives). Either way, Malawi is heading towards becoming a vital test case for telecoms worldwide. Can governments act in a way that apparently compromises customer privacy in order to better monitor telcos? Or will customers be prompted to such an extreme reaction that the government has to back down?

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.