A law by parliament is proposing to compel Kenyans to disclose Whatsapp messages, emails and SMSs on demand. The Statute Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2020 proposes a Sh1 million fine for refusing to avail information that the government believes could breach national security.
The Bill seeks to amend the Official Secrets Act of 1968 to compel anyone who owns a communication device to provide information and data on persons that the government is pursuing for breach of national security.
The amendment will see the word “telegram” changed to “telecommunications” to cover Whatsapp, SMSs and emails.
“Any person who owns or controls any telecommunication apparatus used for sending or receipt of any data to or from any place outside Kenya to produce to the Cabinet Secretary or any other person named in the order, the original or transcripts of all such data,” the proposed law states.
The Bill seeks to help the government unravel complex networks involved in terrorism, cyber-crime and money laundering. Intelligence operatives have adopted more sophisticated methods of surveillance programmes to spy on social media activity, emails and collect data on mobile phones.
Currently, failure to disclose the information on such orders attract a jail term not exceeding one year. The proposed Bill proposes a Sh1 million fine or jail term of up to one year for failure to disclose the information on demand.
“Any person who fails to comply with a request made under sub-section shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both.” the Bill says.
The push for stiffer penalties comes after the government lost a bid to install spyware on local mobile telecommunication channels. The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) had proposed to have mobile network providers install a data management device that would also help identify fake gadgets.
The telcos opposed the plan, citing government’s intrusion of privacy. They said they proposed data management device would help the state listen to phone calls, read messages and track financial transactions.
The court halted the plans by CA, saying that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and the Police could be tasked with identifying fake devices in the market.
The telcos also provided that they already had their own systems that help in the identification of unregistered sim cards and mobile phones, and that so far 1.89 million phones had been blocked through their own efforts.