Malawi telecoms regulator appeals ban on “spy machine”

State-run Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge a ruling preventing it from implementing the expensive Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management Systems (CIRMS) – known as the “spy machine” – as it infringes on privacy rights.

Macra’s director general Charles Nsaliwa told The Sunday Times that the regulator still wanted to put the machine in place, for “quality control of services.”

The notice of appeal has been filed, and the court is yet to set a date.

Macra has now twice been prevented from implementing Call Detail Records (CDRs) from Malawi’s telephone operators, with courts ruling that it does not have the mandate to implement CIRMS.

Two civilians who challenged the use of CIRMS to monitor communications originally brought the case claiming it was not backed by law and that it infringed on privacy rights.

Politicians, human rights activists and telecoms also protested against the implementation, with their criticisms backed up by the court.

“It is unreasonable, [and] not necessary in an open and democratic society,” said High Court Judge Justice Healy Potani. He ruled that Macra had failed to satisfy six necessary requirements, including that the action was not backed by law and contrary to international human rights standards.

Macra has argued that, as a regulator, it had the right to monitor service providers’ performance. However, Potani said that there was too much potential for the machine to be abused and that it invaded people’s privacy, though Macra denied any possibility that this would happen.

“The impression and implication I get is that the machine could be set up in such a manner that would make it capable of tapping the content of telecommunications traffic. One would tend to wonder, justifiably with suspicion, why Macra would opt to use a system or gadget that has great potential of abuse,” ruled Potani.

Macra is already in possession of the machine, and will be forced to consult with the Malawian government on what to do with it if they lose their Supreme Court appeal.

The machine has the potential to be abused as it had the capability to eavesdrop into people’s conversations, emails and text messages, according to report.

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