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Mobile device management system as antidote to phone theft



ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes that the planned Device Management System is targeted at curbing rising phone theft, influx of fake phones and e-waste as well as eliminates counterfeit devices from the various networks.

The banning of stolen handsets from networks has been around the globe for 20 years but has not been enforced internationally. Where the ban is applied, its effectiveness is hindered by implementation problems, reprogramming, easy fencing opportunities, and international trafficking.

Often, Nigerians experience or know of people, who have experienced mobile phone theft, when commuting to work or other places. Sometimes under duress from traffic robbers, mobile phones are snatched. This can be very painful, usually leaving a bitter experience. Sometimes, lives are lost in the process.

Before now, the stolen phones were just sold by traffic robbers to unsuspecting buyers at ridiculously low prices, after the subscriber identification module (SIM) cards must have been discarded.

Lately, traffic robbers have become smarter. They now devise every means, including SIM swap to wipe out victims’ hard-earned money from their bank accounts via the banking apps installed on the devices. Millions of naira has been lost to these sharp practices.

In the middle of the decade, the Global System for Mobile telecommunications Association (GSMA) had worked with telcos, in other parts of the world to help reduce this menace. To stem this tide in Nigeria, the Federal Government planned to implement Mobile Device Management System (DMS).

The DMS is one of the consumer-centric initiatives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) aimed at ensuring that menace of fake phones are tackled significantly in collaboration with other relevant agencies in the country.

Matters arising
NCC had in February 2019, expressed worries at the recurrent cycle of fraudsters deploying their trade via fake and substandard mobile devices. As such, the commission, in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and other government agencies, set up 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 Federal Ministry of Communications and the NCC; and the Project Delivery Team (PDT) which drew representation from the Federal Ministry of Communications, the ICRC, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the NCC.

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

Inaugurating the committees in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar 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.

According to him, the principal objective of the proposed MDMS 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 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.

Technicalities of MDMS?
The MDMS, which would be managed by NCC, will serve as a repository for all registered mobile phones’ International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and owners of such devices in the country.

The IMEI is a 15-digit unique number for mobile devices that identifies each mobile device and its model specification. It can be used in the tracking of stolen phones.

As contained in the revised National Identity Policy for SIM Card registration recently unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari, the DMS will provide access to all operators to cross-check the IMEIs and their status before allowing a device to become active on their network.

Also, registered mobile phone technicians will be provided with an interface to check IMEIs and ensure it has not been reported as stolen or illegal before they render their technical services.

The 45-page document revealed that the DMS will serve as a database for sharing information on stolen devices across all networks.

The Federal Government explained further that this would help to curtail the counterfeit mobile phone market, discourage mobile phone theft, enhance National Security, protect consumer interest, increase revenue generation for the government, reduce the rate of kidnapping, mitigate the use of stolen phones for crime and facilitate blocking or tracing of stolen mobile phones and other smart devices.

The DMS will ensure all un-registered devices do not work in any of the networks in Nigeria; ensure every reported IMEIs for stolen and illegal mobile phones and other smart devices are blacklisted and shared with all operators across all networks, mitigate mobile phone theft and protect Nigerians from being attacked to snatch their mobile phones and other smart devices and blacklist and render all stolen mobile phones and other smart devices valueless in the Nigerian Mobile Phones Market.

Mobile equipment databases and Anti-theft solutions
IN the recently-launched 18 chapters, over 600 pages, Nigerian Telecoms Law and Regulation, a book authored by Quasim Odunmbaku, a telecoms regulatory professional at the NCC and Rotimi Akapo, a lawyer, who specialises in Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) practice, the authors explained that every mobile device (i.e. handsets, dongles, tracking devices, netbooks, etc.) has a unique 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 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 enables them to blacklist implicated devices and prevent their further use on individual networks across other participating jurisdictions.

Currently 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.

The 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.

Nigerians need not submit IMEI numbers
THERE was brouhaha last week over the news that Nigerians would have to submit the IMEI numbers from July, which was linked to NCC.

This mistake, according to industry analysts, emanated from the fast inclusion of the DMS by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, in the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration, which was wrongly amplified by some journalists.

But explaining the situation, NCC said that at no time did it state the registration of IMEI by subscribers and it has no plans to do so.

According to NCC, the reports in question emanated from a section of the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration recently launched by President Buhari.

“It is pertinent to state that the Commission is in the process of deploying a Device Management System (DMS). The DMS will essentially protect subscribers against phone theft and will identify and enable the elimination of fake devices from the networks. The system will capture IMEI automatically without any requirement for subscribers to submit the same.

“The general public is advised to disregard the said publications, which have created the erroneous impression that telephone subscribers will be required to register their IMEI with their networks,” NCC stated.

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