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MDMS, phone IMEI number palaver: Separating the facts from farce

… Mobile Device Management System (DMS) project was a well-conceived and well-thought-out architecture started by Dr. Danbatta administration in 2019, but now faces upheaval task of convincing Nigerians about the intents due to wrong moves in some quarters…

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IMEI number

“Understanding comes through communications and through understanding we find the way of peace”, says Ralph C. Smedley.

As you are digesting that, Charles R. Hook also suggests, that “the great need today in every phase of our societal, economic and political life is understanding. It has always been so, but today, the need is even greater”.

So, recently, the news space in Nigeria – both traditional and digital – was tensed following the news of a supposed directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that telecommunication subscribers must submit the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of their phones to the Commission within three months, starting from July.

Apart from the shock that Nigerians must submit such sensitive information to the government; most commentators wondered if the government derives joy in the suffering of its citizens as the stress associated with the on-going linkage of citizens’ National Identification Number and their SIM cards, is yet to subside.

USSD, Pantami

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami

The Commission has swiftly denied ‘issuing’ such directive. But before we push the piece of news into the dustbin of Fake News, we need to scrutinize the genesis of the news item.

Well, the origin is not far-fetched as correctly reported by some news outlets, the purposed directive was contained in the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Cards Registration which was put forward by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy (FMOCDE).

The genesis of DMS:

TechEconomy.ng had in its February 19, 2019 edition reported a story with the headline: NCC, ONSA declare war on fake mobile devices; set to implement DMS.

Worried by the recurrent cycle of fraudsters deploying their trade through fake and substandard mobile devices, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other government agencies, set up committees to combat the situation.

WCRD, Consumer

EVC of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta

The two joint committees set up then are the Project Steering Committee (PSC), comprising the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Federal Ministry of Communications and the NCC; and the Project Delivery Team (PDT) which draws representation from the Federal Ministry of Communications, the ICRC, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the NCC.

The committees, with specific terms of references, are to work together to ensure the implementation of Mobile Devices Management Systems (DMS), a Public-Private Partnership project, aimed at combatting the proliferation of fake, counterfeit, substandard and cloned mobile communications devices in the telecommunication industry.

While inaugurating the committees in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the move was in line with the mandate of the Commission, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003, to type-approve all devices used in the telecommunications industry and to ensure that all devices used in the telecommunications industry are in line with agreed standards and specifications.

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According to him, the principal objective of the proposed DMS project is to “establish a secure and comprehensive single-window solution that will enable the Commission to implement a proven solution in the Nigerian environment that is sustainable and demonstrate value for money in addition helping to address the various concerns that have been raised with the NCC from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in our regular interactions on security matters as it concerns the telecommunications industry.”

He said the increasing cybercrime, evasion of taxes, terrorism and health and safety concerns raised by the use of stolen, counterfeit and substandard devices in Nigeria is a responsibility which the NCC takes seriously.

“In 2015, the NCC organised a stakeholder forum aimed at developing recommendations that could influence decision and policy directions, leading to solutions to combat the issue of counterfeit and substandard Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices in the country. Based on the importance of the project to the NCC, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the ICRC were engaged for a no-objection to advertise for International Competitive Bidding (ICB) process towards the acquisition of an effective DMS solution, adding that the ICRC subsequently recommended the establishment of the two committees to fast-track the process,” he said.

NCC and ONSA

Prof. Danbatta (m) speaking during the event on MDMS involving the ONSA and others in 2019

Then Minister of Communications, Chief Adebayo Shittu was represented by the erstwhile Permanent Secretary at the ministry, Mrs. Nkechi Ejele; he commended the NCC for the initiative, particularly the comprehensive and clear terms of reference given to the committees.

Now, you can understand how and when the idea of deploying DMS started. In other words, the Mobile Device Management System (DMS) project was not a project by the Ministry of Communications (and Digital Economy). Nevertheless, it is commendable that Dr. Pantami wants speedy implementation of this project which aimed at sanitizing the economy of fake devices with their attendant challenges.

NCC’s effort in this regards is commendable:

DMS was a well-conceived and well-thought-out project started by Danbatta administration in 2019 and consumer-centric in all ramifications.

The initiative is aimed at, among other things, ensuring that:

1. Cases of influx of fake phones and counterfeit mobile/terminal devices are tackled in collaboration with other relevant agencies in the country;

2. Cases of e-waste are addressed by being able to burb entry of substandard mobile phones into the country. Indeed, the NCC’s E-waste Regulation of 2019 was another consumer-centric initiative.

3. By so doing, the Commission will contribute to ensuring that the environment is not toxic and harmful to people’s health arising from the negative impact of e-waste dumping all over the place.

4. Consumers are protected to have access to and purchase only genuine mobile devices

5. Connection of substandard/fake phones to the networks of mobile operators is eliminated. When substandard phones are connected to any network to access telecoms services, it has the ability to degrade the Quality of Service.

IMEI

Mobile MiFis also have IMEI numbers

It is essentially an initiative to ensure that consumers are protected and that when they by phones, they are sure they are buying genuine phones that will offer value for their money as telecom consumers.

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While the process to put the DMS in place is vigorously ongoing, the Commission has made it clear that it was designed in such a way that NOT the phone users will be made to go and queue to register the IMEIs of their phones, rather; it is provides another layer for NCC, on top of its type-approval of mobile devices process whereby phone manufacturers/importers and dealers are, at the point of entry, able have all the IMEIs of their devices captured so that NCC can confirm they are in line with ITU specifications and prescribed standards, thereby certifying them that they are not substandard or fake before they are being sold to Nigerians in the market.

Mobile equipment databases and anti-theft solutions:

Meanwhile, in the recently-launched 18 chapters, over 600 pages,  Nigerian Telecoms Law and Regulation, a book authored by co-authored by Quasim Odunbaku, a telecoms regulatory professional at the NCC and Rotimi Akapo, a lawyer, who specialises in Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) practice, was lucid by which the issues of DMS were eloquently captured:

“Every mobile device (i.e. handsets, dongles, tracking devices, netbooks, etc.) has a unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number which enables mobile networks on which they are used to identify the device for the primary purpose of knowing what kind of services to provision for it and generally track it on the network.

The GSM Association (GSMA) issues IMEI numbers to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and manages the global IMEI system through the global IMEI Database (IMEI DB).

“In time, other uses have been found for the IMEI database. For instance, the IMEI database has proved particularly useful in curtailing the theft of mobile handsets and the criminal use of such devices. Because of the global dimensions of such crimes, the GSMA and several jurisdictions have co-operated to set up Central Equipment identity Registries (CEIR) which enable them to blacklist implicated devices and prevent their further use on individual networks across other participating jurisdictions.

“Equipment registries are also very useful for crime detection and prevention.

“There is currently no CEIR framework in Nigeria, following the failure of an earlier attempt in that regard. The NCC recently announced its intention to introduce a Mobile Device Management System (MDMS) which would apparently serve as an enhanced CEIR.

“CEIR implementation typically raise a few legal and regulatory issues, some of which relate to privacy and legal liability. These issues include the following:

“Whether the provisions of the NDPR and other data privacy protection instruments will apply to CEIR databases given that the IMEI is unique to the device and may therefore be used to identify the owner once it is tied to an MSISDN. In resolving this issue, it should be noted that IMEI databases are necessary for network functions pertaining to tracking users (for the purpose of terminating calls) and resolving network issues pertaining to QoS. It would therefore be impractical to restrict the uses to which the networks can put the database as long as they respect the privacy requirements discussed above.

“A huge number of devices in use in Nigeria (and other developing countries) are marked with cloned or duplicated IMEIs, meaning that a large number of devices may have the same IMEI. Also, many devices are second-hand/used devices which may have been stolen, but are purchased for value by users. The question then is, what recourse would a subscriber have where a device honestly purchased for valuable consideration without notice of its dubious provenance is blacklisted?

“Conversely, what recourse would a subscriber have (and against who) where the network is unable to implement a blacklisting request because the device bears a cloned/duplicated IMEI and that blocking that IMEI would deny many other users the ability to use their legitimately acquired handsets?

“It is expected that these and other issues will be conclusively addressed in the regulatory instrument for the implementation of the CEIR/MDMS system. (Credit: Nigeria Telecoms Law and Regulation, 2021).

From the forgoing, it is important to stress that Subscribers are not required to submit the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number of their phones are widely reported.

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Therefore, as it is regrettable that some journalists wrongly amplified the policy statement without understanding the issue, the Ministry shares in the blame for not showing enough understanding of the issue before hurriedly putting the issue of DMS in the revised policy as a reflection of just IMEI.

This is where we call for professionalism because the sensitivity in DMS project requires methodical approach to implementation to disabuse the minds of Nigerians that the ‘State is after their personal data’, after all the National Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) is still in place as government policy.

Truth be told, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, has demonstrated pious desires to tame the tide of insecurity in Nigeria, especially those crimes committed through the instrumentality of ICT.

We strongly recommend for continued cross-fertilization of ideas between the Minister on one hand and professionals around him to harvest more ideas and views on sensitive industry issues to achieve the purpose(s), unblemished.

@TechEconomyNG connects past-present-emerging technological impacts on Businesses, People and Cities. All Correspondence to: [email protected]

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  1. Pingback: MDMS, Phone IMEI Number Palaver: Separating The Facts From Farce | Techvalley

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