We will not snoop on voice conversations with KelniGVG - Ursula

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

The Ministry of Communications has rejected suggestions that the common platform monitoring system by the National Communications Authority (NCA) and Kelni-GVG will compromise the privacy of clients.

According to the Ministry, the move was only to help with revenue assurance and that it was going to ensure confidentiality of all communications carried on the mobile networks as the law specifies under the Data Protection Act, the sector minister, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has said.

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At a press briefing over the weekend, the minister said: “We trust that the network operators will produce the real call detail records and give them to the NCA, however, the law says the NCA and the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) should also have the capability of verifying the information that the telcos provide, and without having real time connections to generate their own call detail records from the same raw data, that the network operators also generate theirs from, they wouldn’t be in a position to verify whether the reports are correct.”

Privacy

The Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT) had insisted that the current decision taken by the two entities - NCA and Kelni GVG - did not conform to the existing regulatory frameworks for the telecommunication industry.


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The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GCT, Mr Kenneth Ashigbey in a statement last Friday said the current arrangement did not provide customers the privacy of their communication that the Constitution guaranteed them.

”The monitoring mechanism has the capacity to actively or passively record, monitor or tap into the content of any incoming or outgoing electronic communications traffic such as voice and that the proposed connection point will risk exposing content of voice traffic. The voice transaction damp for the revenue assurance tool should be enough without risking individual customer privacy. We are minded that the law does not talk about intent but capability, which the current architecture processes,” the GCT stressed.

Related: Common platform will compromise clients’ privacy — Chamber of Telecommunications

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The Vice President of policy thnk, IMANI Africa, Mr Kofi Bentil on his part has argued that the law states that nobody “should have an opportunity to listen” and insisted when connected and monitoring real time, there is an opportunity to listen and whether they listen or not is not the issue.”

To him, he has no knowledge of a software that can connect real time to the telcos and not create at the same time an opportunity to listen, “you can’t eat a fish without killing it,” he said.

Protection

But reacting to the suggestion at the press briefing where journalists were also given a tour of the common monitoring platform infrastructure at the NCA Towers in the Airport City in Accra, the Minister of Communications said: “We will enforce the law on confidentiality of the networks in that the monitoring platform will not have the capability of either snooping on the voice conversations or the data that is carried on the network, and that is non-negotiable.”

“So if that is the only concern of the mobile network operators, which they have expressed to us, as I told them, they can go to sleep on that score. I don’t think we want them to cry more than the bereaved, the government is determined to enforce its own laws and so if that is their only concern, they don’t have anything to worry about.”

“My worry is their [telcos] insistence that for that reason they will do whatever it takes to prevent this platform from taking off, that is a non-starter if this same company GVG is working in Rwanda and Uganda and all the network operators in this country are present in one or either of those countries and they are happily allowing or working with GVG to monitor their networks there, I don’t see why they should resist this monitoring in this country unless they have something to hide,” she added.

Adding, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said: “I will hesitate to think that they [telcos] have so much to hide that they will go to these lengths. We heard the same arguments in 2009 and government has moved beyond mere verbal re-assurance to pass legislation to make sure that does not happen and I will urge all of us to have confidence in government to enforce its own laws.

Watchmen

The Minister said the technical team from both sides, telcos and NCA/Kelni GVG will have visibility on the exact traffic that is going through the common platform network.

“So who watches the watchman, you will see exactly what I will see so that if anything [snooping] is going through that is not supposed to, you will know instantly, the telcos will see exactly what traffic is going through the common platform, and the common platform will see all the information that they need to get from the telcos infrastructure. And I think that is double security, so that each is satisfied that nothing which should not be going through the common platform is going through it in real time.”

“I think even that alone should be double assurance that this platform hasn’t been set up to snoop on anybody’s conversation, we are not interested in that, we are only following and interested in the money, not in who is saying what to whose girlfriend at what time of the day or night... only specified data will flow through specified pipes,” she added.

Trust

The Minister said the issue was not about trust, since they trusted the network operators but insisted data was “king in this digital era” and without having access to the data it would be difficult to plan and be able to verify that the reports from the telcos are correct.

She said the government was determined to set up an open data platform so that it can be able to generate its own data, analyse it and develop programmes and policies which are data driven, “that is the way to the Information Society.”

“I’m sure the telcos know that they are sitting on volumes of data, they can give us that data but we want to be able to also track those patterns ourselves by having real time access to their networks not to see the content of the communications that is carried on it, we are not interested in that…we are interested in the trends, call detail records, information that is generated on it.”

The Minister said government has been struggling to have real time monitoring of the mobile network operators since 2009, and “I think we’ve had this conversation long enough and we have exhausted the various scenarios, the pros and cons of it and it is time to get to serious business.”

Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said everything was ready for all operators to be connected and warned that companies that failed to connect by the expiry date of June 11, 2018 would be sanctioned.

Adding, she said an audit by the NCA in 2012 of the one percent of the revenue that the telcos are supposed to be paying revealed that all the telcos have been under declaring and underpaying the taxes they were supposed to.

“So judging by that alone, we have evidence in this country that they don’t always provide all the information that they should provide, so it is imperative that we will be able to hold their feet to the fire and cross check whatever information they give us.”

Related: OccupyGhana suggests alternatives to Kelni-GVG provisions

Independent calculations

The NCA has explained that if the monitoring was done in real time, it means all the calculations can be done independently and the law says that the common platform should set up a mechanism to determine the actual revenue, so that is the reason why it has to be done in real time.

Explaining, the Deputy Director for Engineering at NCA, Mr Edmund Fianko said it was not going to derive from somebody’s extracted data but deriving from the very source and the comparison is necessary because if you have to offer somebody a bill, he also has to be sure if there are disparities for it to be thrashed out and if somebody has not properly declared then the applicable sanctions will apply.

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