Malawi spy machine and what govt is not saying

Macra and Agilis International Inc signed a contract agreement in which the USA firm is expected to install systems to help government agents to see and read your text messages, hear your conversations and read your emails in real time using Lawful Intercept.

Lawful Intercept is the legally sanctioned official access to private communications, such as telephone calls or email messages.

This is the truth the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority does not want to tell you in their massive awareness campaigns on radio and in newspaper adverts costing millions of kwachas in public funds.

The contract, signed by Macra finance director Ben Chitsonga and Executive vice president Agilis International Inc Rawlvan Bennett on July 21, 2010, reveals that the US tech company will train and hand over the operations of the Lawful Intercept function to “appropriate government authority.”

In the contract, Agilis International Inc, explains how they will roll out the systems in three years including Lawful Intercept.

“Lawful intercept functionality is provided by a component of NetMind, which allows the operator to set up the signalling intercept of a call in the mentioned network…once the intercept has been set, then if this number makes a call or receives a call, a notification via sms/email will be sent to the respective telephone number or email address with the details of the call,” reads the contract.

“In addition to this near real-time intercept, the system also provides the functionality to produce records to fulfil information request from a legal agency. The typical information required to service this request include;

• Information request number • Requesting entity

• Requesting Operator

• Telephone Number request

• Date and time range that is mentioned in the information request

The controversial Lawful Intercept is scheduled for Phase II after completion of the installation of a Macra Network Operations Centre, Macra Monitoring Network during Phase I.

The Macra Monitoring Network solution will help check the quality of service provided by each operator.

This solution will also facilitate fraud management by being able to detect illegal entry of international calls into Malawi by passing international access fees, a solution telephone operators have described as an unnecessary duplication because their equipment already does this.

But the new system cannot work without the cooperation of the telephone operators, Airtel Malawi, TNM, MTL, and ACL who have so far been resolute blocking every move that Macra is making to have the equipment installed and functional.

Two weeks ago, the operators went public explaining the capabilities of the equipment and disclosed that Macra has asked them to surrender Call Detail Records (CDRs) to facilitate the eavesdropping part of the equipment.

CDRs provide detailed information including who called which number; details of calls received; time and duration of calls; location where call was made or received; sms sent and received; type of handset used and other detailed subscriber information.

The operators took the initiative two weeks ago and obtained an injunction successfully but temporarily stopping the rolling out of the new system.

Their lawyer Ralph Kasambara argued that Lawful Intercept is a violation of privacy and confidentiality.

The operators said in a statement released earlier that they 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 licences, the Communications Act (1998) and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.”

Macra has already spent US$2 million on the equipment and still needs to pay US$4 million as the balance before the other components can be shipped into the country.

Macra’s decision will likely worsen President Bingu wa Mutharika’s human rights record after the country’s main donors this week said that they still have concerns on some restrictive laws and the “shrinking political space”.

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