Malawi phone hacking project to unmask media sources

Journalists don’t reveal sources as a key tenet of media profession but authorities will be able to unmask them through the  dubbed ‘spy machine’ – the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management Systems (Cirms) – which Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) wants to install in the country, the four telecom operators have warned.

Airtel, TNM, Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) and Access Communications Limited (ACL), said in a statement that the phone hacking project will also crackdown on  politicians, entrepenuers and human rights activists.

MTL Chief Executive Officer Charles Chuka, Airtel Managing Director Saulos Chilima, TNM Chief Executive Officer Willem Swart and ACL Managing Director Faizal Okhai signed the statement which said “there will no longer be confidentiality in respect to customers call details, customers’ social, economical or political links and call history, journalists sources of information and contact details.”

Faizal Okhai: Signatory to the tecloms operators statement

Journalists have a principle of protecting their sources who talks on the basis of anonymity but the spy machine will be able to unmask some of them and interfere with the free flow of information to the media. Normally, the journalists will go to the wire and beyond to keep the sources identity secret.

An observer said the development will be another “blatant attempt” by the Malawi authorities to “bully the media.”

The revelations that Macra will have call detail records (CDRs) threatened the media profession as sources fear to face retribution of some form, even when they are performing an obvious public service in revealing information that powerful people don’t want in the public domain.

The opposition politicians will also be tracked down on their conversations including the civil society activists.

““Interactions between among others businessmen, politicians, civil society and other interest groups and their associates can easily be established by analysing the raw CDRs,” the telecom operators informed.

“The CDRs which the Operators currently submit to Macra for monitoring functions under the Communications Act are summarised CDRs which do not contain such detailed subscriber information and not raw CDRs or CDR format as requested by Macra for its Cirms implementation,” reads the statement.

Malawians are also informed that through Macra spy machine, the regulators will be to intercept, read and listening call conversations and reading of SMS and emails going through the operators’ networks.

Macra defends their spy machine by hoodwinking the public that it will not be listening to their phones.

Nyasa Times understands that the CIRMS was bought at US$6.8 million (about K1.7 billion)

But in its 40-paged legal opinion to Macra dated 16th August 2011 signed by Kalekeni Kaphale Lawyers said there is “high cost of the system but with little value added.”

The legal opinion noted that “direct access to CDR’s and intercept are not possible within the current legal framework.”

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