In the Big brother house, nothing is private, everything can be seen, whatever is spoken can be heard; fans of Big Brother Naija which came back earlier this year know these things for a fact but do you know what Big Brother Kenya is?
Kenyan authorities seem willing to keep to the spirit, if not the entertainment angle, of the big brother brand as a new plan may soon see them monitoring the phone calls, text messages, and mobile money transactions of millions of Kenyan citizens.
Big Brother Kenya (if it does happen) will not take place in any house with cameras monitoring the moves of selected housemates. No, it will rather be a government-sanctioned system of citizen monitoring.
The Nation, a Kenyan paper allegedly obtained a letter from the Communications Authority of Kenya to a mobile phone operator that showed that the regulators have allegedly ordered mobile phone operators including Safaricom, Airtel, and Orange to allow them access to the data of Kenyans.
Criticism Of Big Brother Kenya
Criticism of the move by the Communications Authority of Kenya has been swift and the body has already responded to the criticism, stating that the initiative is a “device monitoring system” (DMS), which is aimed only at blocking counterfeit phones from being used on mobile phone networks.
Kenya has actually been going after counterfeit phones for a while, as the usage of such phones is widespread. A good number of Kenya’s millions of cell phone users are using knock-off brand-name phones, attractive because they are cheap and identifiable by their International Mobile Equipment Identity, a unique 15-digit code.
In 2012, the Kenyan regulator had asked that mobile phone operators switch off all the fake phones being used on their system. Critics, however, feel that the system will be used as an excuse to shut down mobile networks after the Kenyan election to stop any protests. The critics who are tweeting under the hashtag ‘Mobile Privacy Is My Right’ are not likely to be soothed by the promise on the Communications Authority of Kenya’s Facebook page which states that the DMS would not access the personal data of subscribers.
This is especially considering that Kenyan regulators have already said they will be monitoring social media for hate speech. Once again, it is necessary to point out that Kenyan authorities do have reason to worry about after-election violence since over 1,000 people ended up dead when violence erupted in the country after the 2007 elections.
The kind of system being proposed by the Kenyan regulators is, however, a slippery slope. Whatever the motive for establishing the Device Monitoring System, the end result is that the body would then have the capacity to monitor people’s devices and the only thing the Kenyan public would have to hold on to is a simple promise by the Communications Authority of Kenya not to access their personal data.