Big Brother is Watching: Surveillance Fears in Kenya

CA CEO Francis Wangusi

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) recently spent about sh2bn on a social media monitoring system and a device management system that will monitor mobile phones and activities around them. This has already raised concerns over the violation of personal freedoms and the Constitution.

According to CA, the systems are in place to prevent a repeat of the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence.

“We are using all possible means to avoid a situation where there is too much tension in the country, forcing us to take a drastic step,” CA CEO Francis Wangusi said.

Kenya will be joining a number of countries that have surveillance systems in place. Just recently, a British journalist warned the UK that the government is snooping on their internet and phones. Luke Harding of the Guardian was providing information about his Snowden Files operation, which led him and his colleagues into a surveillance operation.

In the Far East, China is tightening up its online security, recently announcing a 14-month crack down on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Interestingly, the crackdown is happening in the year of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The Minister of Industry and Information Technology termed all VPNs without a leeway for government to tap communications as illegal. This means that government of China has to approve all cable and VPN network before they can be used.

In Kenya, apart from the surveillance, there will be an ‘internet shutdown’, but only in ‘worst case scenario’, according to CA.  This has however been denied by the ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru.

“There is no government policy or even intention of shutting down the internet during the elections. We actually have not had a meeting in government where we have discussed (whether) to shut it down or not…it’s not an agenda that has come up, so I don’t think any Kenyan should have fears about that,” he said.

The surveillance system purchase comes at a time when the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill 2016 is being discussed in parliament. In the bill, offences carry a fine of up to sh10m or to an imprisonment for up to 10 years or both.

One of the major criticisms on the move to monitor the internet is the violation of the personal freedom, which is affirmed by the UN Resolution 68/167 of December 2013. It has also been seen as a way to punish people who are using the internet for good, especially if it will get to the point of shutting it down.

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