How secure are your telephone conversations?

Tuesday July 23 2019

 

By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax

Dar es Salaam. While the authenticity of circulating telephone conversation recordings allegedly by senior retired and serving Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) officials remains contested, authorities have been challenged to address concerns about the safety of users’ data.

The disquiet by both regulatory and investigative agencies over the supposed leaked conversations between influential personalities may injure the reputation and integrity of both the country and the telecommunications operators.

“The possibility that our telephone conversation is being intercepted is out of the question. Nothing is impossible with technology,” said Mr Harold Daudi, a telecommunication engineer with Peertech Telecom Limited. “As for who leak them, it’s a matter of who has their possession,” Mr Daudi told The Citizen.

He said that Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and services providers are answerable for the leaks. “TCRA for example, has all the information of all customers using all cellular networks in the country. That’s why it was able to fine the telcos for violation of subscriber registration rules.”

The fine was imposed in July 2017 as TCRA argued that the telcos were endangering public security. The affected companies are Halotel, Airtel, Smart, Tigo, Vodacom, and Zantel. Mr Daudi says there is no way that the TCRA can escape blame as it is they who are responsible for the security of all telecommunication issues.

The expert said telcos could not escape blame either. This is because they are the ones holding their customers’ data and must be responsible to protect them.

“When one buys a SIM card of a particular cellular network, it means that she/he enters into a contract with that company. It may be that it was not the company that leaked the conversation, it could be a hacker, but still the company is held responsible if their systems are compromised to expose the privacy of customers,” he said.

Yesterday TCRA acting communications manager Semu Mwakyanjala said they had nothing to do with the said leaks while efforts to reach out to some of the telcos proved futile most of the day.

On their part, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) executive director Anna Henga said that the saga suggests a crime had been committed and should be investigated. She said LHRC was “deeply concerned with the development” and demanded immediate investigations.

“Interfering with someone’s communication is an act of human rights violation. Spreading one’s communication without consent runs counter to one’s dignity and respect. That’s a serious crime,” she said.

Reacting to the call for an investigation, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Simon Sirro said that is a natural phenomenon because that’s what the police are supposed to do. “Do you expect that we can let this matter passes without us investigating it? That’s not possible,” said the IGP.

Despite the constitutional guarantee of the right to privacy, Tanzania does not yet have a single and comprehensive data privacy and protection legislation. The Electronic and Postal Communications Act 2010 and the Cybercrimes Act 2015 touch on the issue but experts say that they are far from ideal.

“The pieces of legislation are devoid of a clear provision on first, data ownership and whether individuals have power over the information that they supply to and comes under the control of third parties,” a legal expert, Mr Paul Kibuuka, offers in a recent commentary published in The Citizen.