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Monday, 15 September 2014 20:26

MACRA gets Supreme Court nod to use CIRMs 'spy' machine

Written by  Tikondane Vega

Blantyre, September 15: The Supreme Court of Appeal in Blantyre on Monday ruled in favour of Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) in the case of the state versus MACRA ex parte Hophmally Makande and Erick Sabwera in which the two were against the use Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (Cirms.

Macra bought the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (Cirms)  which was later popularised as ‘the Spy Machine’ – from a US-based company, Agilis International, at a cost of USD6.8 million and ever since its acquisition, operators have been protesting its installation claiming it would infringe on the public’s right to privacy.

In this regard two concerned consumers Makande and Sabwera took the matter to the high court where the High Court stopped MACRA from implementing the fiercely debated and feared Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS), pending legal redress.

This prompted MACRA to take the matter to the supreme court of appeal to challenge the high court ruling that stops the regulator from going ahead with the implementation of the expensive equipment.

Addressing journalists soon after the court ruling on Monday, MACRA Director General Andrew Kumbatira said MACRA appealed against a judgement of the high court which stated that the regulatory body had no mandate, power or jurisdiction to implement a monitoring system known as the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (CIRMS).
Said Kumbatira: " MACRA procured the CIRMS in 2010 for the purpose of fulfilling its statutory monitoring mandate in respect to quality of service, Revenue Assurance, Fraud management and spectrum management.

“In reversing the decision of the High Court, the Supreme Court considered two main issues like whether MACRA has the authority to use the CIRMS under its governing laws and also whether the use of the CIRMS is constitutional.

“In deciding on the first question, the supreme court held that the Communication Act gave MACRA the powers to monitor activities of its licenses in order to fulfil its statutory obligations including consumer protection. The court further held that the Act mandated MACRA to obtain data in any form or manner.

“On the constitutionality of using the CIRMS, the court held that the use of the CIRMS was a lawful limitation to the right to privacy, information and freedom of expression. In arriving at this decision, the court ruled that the rights cited were not absolute rights and that they could be limited under section 44 of the Constitution. Furthermore the court recognised that the use of the CIRMS has passed the constitutionality test under Section 44 of the constitution.

Kumbatira said since Supreme Court has reversed the high court ruling, MACRA will now proceed to implement the CIRMS with immediate effect adding that the system will be implemented in line with the mandate of the Act and expects to impalement the system as soon as possible.

He said the regulatory body will soon finalise some issues like the link connections to all operators and upgrade the software since it has been idle from installation.

Kumbatira has since trashed the claims to say the system is a spy machine saying it will boost the country’s economy as no operator would cheat when it comes to levy and tax adding that consumer will benefit as the system will also be monitoring the dropping calls and other call qualities.

“Our CIRMS machine cannot track down voice or whatsoever. The system is there to benefit anybody even operators, in other ways it will help to verify information operators are giving us. I hope our relationship with operators will not go sour because of this,” added Kumbatira.

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