Review of the Legal & Regulatory Framework for Unsolicited Text Messaging & Spam Targeting Subscribers of Telecommunication Services in Cameroon & for Games Organized by Providers of Telecommunication Services Targeting Subscribers
By Ferdinand Doh Galabe, Esq.,
By Decision no 87/ART/DG/DAJPC/ of May 22, 2014 prescribing to telecommunications service providers the regulatory framework for organizing games and for sending unsolicited text messages to subscribers by telephonic means, the Director General of Cameroon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Board (ART) laid down binding directives relating to games organized by providers of telecommunication services (hereinafter “providers”) targeting subscribers and for unsolicited text messages and spams targeting subscribers of providers.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Board prescribed to providers organizing games to henceforth communicate clearly, exhaustively, sincerely and unequivocally, the terms and conditions relating to their games, as well as the exact and complete applicable fees to be paid by subscribers to participate in such games. Such participation fees must be communicated to subscribers prior to their engagement to participate in such games.
The Director General of the Telecommunication Regulatory Board equally stated in the directive, among others, that unsolicited text messaging by providers should be done strictly between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, and subscribers should not receive more than three (03) unsolicited messages on a daily basis. Spams must contain the signature of senders and consumers must be provided with codes through which they can subscribe to participate in games organized by providers who are bound to provide consumers with codes to unsubscribe from such games, unsolicited text messages and spams.
The subscribe and unsubscribe codes communicated by providers must be simple and free of charge, and must, in order to avoid confusion, contain at least three (03) digits. Consumers who suffer any form of prejudice resulting from violation of these guidelines may report such violations to the Telecommunications Regulatory Board which has the power to sanction offending providers.
These regulatory guidelines complement existing domestic laws and regulations on gaming, advertisement, electronic communication, consumer protection and rules for protection of consumers of electronic communication services. The law on consumer protection specifically enshrines the principle of protection of consumers against breaches on their life, health, security, and the environment in which they consume technology-related goods and services. This law equally protects consumers from certain commercial practices such as abusive advertisement, which arguably includes unsolicited text messaging and spams.
Decree No. 2013/0399/PM of February 27, 2013 laying down the Rules for the Protection of Consumers of Electronic Communications Services also protects the privacy of consumers of such services. Section 7 of that Decree expressly provides that providers shall ensure that unsolicited prospection messages are not sent to subscribers without their prior consent. Even after such consent has been sought and obtained, the provider is legally obliged to provide a means through which the consumer of electronic communication services may easily and freely unsubscribe from receiving such messages. Providers are equally obliged by this decree to provide to users means through which they could block unsolicited messages.
In addition to domestic laws and regulations, there are two key international instruments which touch especially on unsolicited text messaging and spams. These are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter “ICCPR”) and the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection of June 27, 2014 (yet to be ratified by Cameroon). So far only eight (08) countries have ratified the Convention and deposited instruments of ratification (Senegal, Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Guinea-Conakry, Ghana and Angola). The AU Convention aims at protecting the privacy of individuals in their daily and professional lives as well as combatting violations of privacy that may be generated by personal data collection, processing, transmission, storage and use. Article 4 of this AU Convention expressly prohibits direct marketing by electronic means without prior consent of recipients to receiving such direct marketing through such means. Article 17 of the ICCPR provides that, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour or reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
It seems, unfortunately, that neither the directive of the Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Board which was intended to put an end to the rampant excesses of providers, nor international legal instruments, has left much impression on providers since 2014 to date, as subscribers continue to complain of receiving unsolicited messages in plain violation of the above legal instruments. The author of this write-up is unaware of any sanctions meted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Board against a provider for disregarding this directive.