Effect of Malawi spy machine on broadcasters: From a rights perspective

Background

It is interesting that since the debate on (Consolidated ICT Regulatory
Management System -CIRMS)   also known as ‘spy machine’ started,  Civil Society Organisations and human rights activists have not been very vocal on the issue.

Their stance might be understandable given the technicalities involved and the damn lies emanating from the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) and its line Ministry.  The diabolic statements emanating from Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati and Dancing Kings leads one to believe that there is something that is making these people to be in this panic gear if not self preservation position.

Cell-spy

Surely, it is not the consumer interests let alone national revenues interest.  It can only be one interest; their personal interest. Simply put: money or if you want to be brutal honest “ anadya za eni” and now they have to perform their part.

If I were an anti corruption official, I would have smelt a rat. Alas ! our corruption busting body is itself embroiled in its own war of self preservation given that its top officers contracts are no more.

Back to the issue at hand.  The CIRMS project has a janus head that will attack the innocent and unsuspecting Malawian citizen. First, the spy machine [ for indeed that is what it has been bought for -forget the noise Kaliati and Nsaliwa both pathetic Roman Catholic shame upon them- that will have a direct bearing on radio stations and journalists by way of spectrum allocation and lawful intercept.

Unlike spectrum monitoring, spectrum allocation is the actual assignment and reassignment of frequency, including holding or withdrawing allocated frequency from the user. Lawful interception amounts to MACRA and Government having access to real time call details as well as listening to call conversations.

What is the danger with the new machine?

Spectrum allocation:

With this spy machine, MACRA will be entitled to target already allocated frequency of a radio station at any time and to deal with it as it deems fit including ‘clamping or ‘jamming’ the frequency and putting it off air. This is not new: during the July 20 demos we saw it happen though in a crude fashion. That time MACRA officials and the police went to Mpingwe where they physically detached equipment and took Capital FM, Zodiak and Joy Radio off air.  This time around, with the CIRMS, MACRA officials will be able to do that from their offices without any person knowing. Talk of technological advancement.  Now you understand why Kaliati is shouting on top of her voice backed by Nsaliwa of MACRA.

Sources of Journalists

Print journalists are not spared.  Since MACRA will have access to raw and archived data, MACRA could easily unmask and determine who the source of any information to a journalist is. They will be able to assess who contacted the journalist, when and from where.  George Orwell, author of 1984 must be smiling in his grave and uttering : “I warned you!”

Phone-In Programmes

Members of the public right to receive, impart and share information also comes under heavy attack.  The fashionable anonymous callers on phone-in programmes will now be known by overzealous MACRA and Government officials. How? Simple. Callers will no longer be in a position to hide their identity. MACRA or a government official, sitting on the control panels of the machine, will be able to ‘see’ and monitor not only the traffic of calls to the radio station (i.e. the numbers calling, the time, duration) but also to unmask the identity of the caller by knowing his true phone number, the exact location of where he is calling from and the call history.

Rights Compromised

Now you understand why human rights organizations and activists ought to be very concerned in so far as rights to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of press and political rights are concerned. Journalists-be it from electronic or print media- will not be as effective as before.  Their world of informants is slowly shrinking; and quality of phone in programmes likely to be heavily compromised.

Caution

Malawians please believe this. We had very honourable and morally upright politicians when they were entering politics.  The higher they climbed the political ladder, the more we saw their uglier parts.  Rights were being trumped upon with reckless abandon. Before long, they too became victims of the monstrous laws and policies they had put in place for the so called “public interest”. We now know that public interest is a very unruly horse not to be let to politicians such as Vuwa Kaunda, Ntaba, Kaliati, Bingu etc to ride unless we want the riders to fall with the horse.

Fellow Malawians wake up and smell the coffee: our DPP politicians let alone the comical duo professors are not the best thing that walked the earth.

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