Terrorism seems to have thrown Government officials mandated to come up with policies and regulations off-guard. Firstly, they decided to ban photography is almost all public places in Kenya, reasoning that such photos would give terrorists ideas of where to attack. Secondly, they, through the Communication Authority of Kenya, proposed that CCTV Cameras should be installed in all public places that offer free WiFi so that ISPs can record videos of those using public free WiFi networks. You also remember the controversial wall and the CCTV Cameras along Kenya-Somali border? Well, Liquid Telecom has decided to poke holes in the CA regulations requiring ISPs to record videos of those using free public WiFi hotspots and hopefully this will make the CA to rethink the CCTV-WiFi regulations. There are five important elements to the regulations:
- That ISPs to install CCTV Cameras in all public places where free WiFi is offered. The CCTV cameras are supposed to be used to track and monitor every person who logs into the free WiFi.
- That ISPs to ensure that only the registered mobile phone subscribers with genuine handsets are allowed into public WiFi networks.
- That ISPs are supposed to identify every person interested in using the public free WiFi networks.
- That the ISPs to store data showing when a particular user logged into the WiFi and when they logged out.
- That the ISPs to record and store videos of free public WiFi users for at least one year.
The reasoning behind the regulations were founded on the basis that free public WiFi provides anonymous access to the public, thereby those with ill-intentions like criminals and terrorists could use the anonymity to communicate with each other making it hard for the Government to track them down. However, if at every place with free public WiFi also has CCTV Cameras, then investigators can use the CCTV footages to identify a suspect. The requirement that only registered mobile subscribers with genuine handsets should be allowed to use the free WiFi hotspots should make it even easier for the Government to identify any suspects.
Liquid Telecom has poked holes into the regulations by raising the following issues:
- How will ISPs identify persons interested in using free public WiFi networks?
- How can the CCTV videos be used to identify users of free public WiFi networks?
In its submission to the Telecoms regulators, Liquid Telecom questioned, “It is a device that attempts to connect to a Wi-Fi and not a specific person. Does it mean that a potential user must present him or herself and the operator identify the users physically?” and “What is to stop a potential user giving third party’s number? Does the operator need to have access to the mobile phone number database for verification?” Other than the concerns raised by Liquid Telecom, there are also other questions that needs to be raised:
- Now that only registered mobile subscribers are allowed to use the public free WiFi, does it mean that those who have laptops and/or SIM free smartphones/tablets should not log into the free WiFi networks?
- Today’s smartphones and tablets allow anyone to be an “ISP” when they turn their gadgets to WiFi hotspots. When for example I turn my smartphone to an ISP hotspot for those we are meeting with at some “public place” to use, will I be required to install CCTV Cameras to record them?
- WiFi, including those installed to operate inside buildings, have their coverage extend a few metres outside the building. How will the ISP identify the members of the public who log in to the free WiFi from outside the building? For example, several restaurants operating along busy streets like Moi Avenue, Kimathi Street, and Tom Mboya have their WiFi networks extend to the streets, how will ISPs identify those standing in the streets and are logged in to the free WiFi networks?
- The above reasoning extends to free WiFi offered in public places like Bus Stations. Liquid Telecom for examples offers the free Bilawaya WiFi in many public places in Nakuru that extends all the way from the main Nairobi/Eldoret Bus Terminus, covering the entire Kenyatta Avenue and adjacent streets, to WestSide Mall that houses Nakumatt WestSide. Every person inside a vehicle, walking along the street, and seated inside a stall or restaurant or any other “open” building along those streets is free to use Bilawaya. How will Liquid Telecom identify all of them?
When the proposed rules intended to govern the use of free public WiFi were first brought to light, someone commented, “These regulations are being introduced by guys who have no idea how wifi works”.