MDMS Will Curb Fraud And Protect Telecom Subscribers In Nigeria

By Martin Ekpeke

TECH DIGEST – The issue of Mobile Devices Management Systems (MDMS), caused some upheavals last week with some Nigerians arguing that the policy will give away their privacy to the government via the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.

But a cursory look at the policy well-conceived by the Nigerian Communications Commission, led by Prof. Umar Danbatta administration in 2019, shows that the policy is well-thought-out and will help curb the incessant fraud issues and ultimately, protect telecom subscribers.

In fact, the policy is one of the consumer-centric initiatives of the Nigerian Communications Commission aimed at ensuring that cases of the influx of fake phones and counterfeit mobile/terminal devices are tackled in collaboration with other relevant agencies in the country.

Though the system is yet to be deployed, it is pertinent to note that DMS will essentially protect subscribers against phone theft and will identify and enable the elimination of fake devices from the networks as the system will capture IMEI automatically without any requirement for subscribers to submit same.

IMEI Among other issues, the initiative will help to address is the elimination of substandard/fake phones from the networks of mobile operators. Thus, enabling consumers to have access to and purchase only genuine mobile devices.

Also, cases of e-waste in Nigeria will be hugely addressed as the country will be able to control the entry of substandard mobile phones into the country. 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.

Having said that, it is important to note that the MDMS is designed in such a way that phone users will not be made to queue to register the IMEIs of their phones. Rather, the policy provides another leverage for the telecom regulator’s type-approval quest that all mobile devices are certified at the point of entry.

Through the IMEIs, NCC can confirm that the devices 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.

In the recently-launched 18 chapters’ book ‘Nigerian Telecoms Law and Regulation’, 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, it was posited that every mobile device 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.

What this means is that 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).

The book disclosed that 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. But 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.

Presently in Nigeria, there is currently no Central Equipment Identity Registries (CEIR) framework, following the failure of an earlier attempt in that regard. But the Mobile Device Management System (MDMS), which the NCC plans to introduce in the nearest future which would apparently serve as an enhanced CEIR.

What CEIR does

CEIR implementation typically raises a few legal and regulatory issues, some of which relate to privacy and legal liability. These issues include 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.

Nigeria’s effort in the past

In February 2019, when the Nigerians Communications Commission started the process of working on the DMS Project, as a result of the recurrent cycle of fraudsters deploying their trade via 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 two joint committees to combat the situation.

The two joint committees set up are the Project Steering Committee (PSC), comprising the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the then 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 specific terms of references for the Committee were 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.

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, while inaugurating the committee 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.

No to submission of IMEI

Meanwhile, following the upheaval last week, the Nigerian Communications Commission issued a statement signed by its Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde.

In the statement, the Commission clearly stated that even though it is in the process of deploying a Device Management System (DMS), no subscriber is required to submit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) Number.

It assured that the DMS will essentially protect subscribers against phone theft and will identify and enable the elimination of fake devices from the networks.