RA vs Privacy: Malawi Row Continues

As previously reported on talkRA Malawi’s regulator is imposing a ‘revenue assurance’ system on its operators, even though the operators insist it infringes customer privacy. In a new joint statement, the operators have reiterated their position:

“We therefore continue to alert our customers and members of the general public that, once the system is implemented in its current form, 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 licenses, subscriber contracts, the Communications Act (1998) and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.”

There is no sign that the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) intend to back down. MACRA Director General Charles Nsaliwa reportedly told the press that:

“The system will ensure quality services from operators and will only monitor Call Detail Record (CDR) which operators already submit to Macra on request…”

Meanwhile, Malawi’s Nyasa Times has reported excerpts from the legal advice given to MACRA about the new system. If reportedly accurately, the advice suggests the need for law reforms and public consultation before the system is implemented. It also suggests that Malawi’s operators are already paying their fair share of tax:

“Operators already submit all the information required by the system, both as regards revenue and quality of service. In respect of the former, they are audited annually by reputable auditors and do submit accurate revenue data to MACRA…”

Something smells rotten. CDR data cannot be used to ensure the quality of services. National regulators habitually determine service quality through tests that simulate the user experience, not by scrutinizing operator CDRs. It looks to me that Malawi’s regulator has stopped serving Malawi’s public, misleading them that their privacy should be threatened for a ‘quality’ benefit that cannot be delivered in the way they are suggesting. The real purpose of the system is evidently to prevent tax evasion by Malawi’s operators, which begs the question of why the system is needed if existing audits find no discrepancies. Customers deserve to be told the truth of that, and not told some nonsense about improving service quality. Malawi’s citizens can then decide who they think is less trustworthy: the operators when paying tax, or the government when reviewing every call made in Malawi.

Look here for the Nyasa Times’ article on MACRA’s legal advice, and here for more on the public statements made by operators and the regulator.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.