A Call for Inclusivity, Trust, and Accountability in Reforming Uganda’s National ID System

As Uganda embarks on a nationwide registration drive this July to renew its National Identification System, pressing issues surrounding human rights, privacy, and inclusivity demand urgent attention. Unwanted Witness’s recent position paper, “Championing an Inclusive, Trustworthy, and Accountable Approach to Uganda’s ID Infrastructure and the Transition to a New Generation ID,” offers an incisive analysis of the current National Security Identification System (NSIS) and the forthcoming New Generation National ID Project (Ndaga Muntu). This transitional phase, precipitated by the expiration of existing IDs, presents a critical opportunity to address systemic flaws and advocate for a more just and equitable identification framework.

The National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) has been instrumental in developing Uganda’s NSIS, aiming to centralize citizen data for improved service delivery. Despite notable advancements, the system faces substantial challenges, including financial constraints, administrative inefficiencies, and the exclusion of marginalized communities. These impediments have significantly undermined the NSIS’s efficacy, raising serious concerns about the fairness and accessibility of the national ID infrastructure.

One of the most striking issues identified in the paper is the financial burden imposed on Ugandans for ID services. The fixed fee of UGX 50,000/- ($13.78 USD) for replacing identification cards is markedly higher compared to neighboring countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and extends even to South Africa and India. In a nation where approximately 30.1% of the population lives below the poverty line, this exorbitant fee exacerbates social inequalities and restricts access to essential services for many Ugandans.

Privacy concerns are paramount in the critique of NIRA. The authority’s failure to conduct a Data Impact Assessment, and establish a privacy policy poses significant risks to the privacy rights of Ugandan citizens. These deficiencies contravene Uganda’s data protection laws, leaving personal information vulnerable to misuse and breaches. Addressing these issues is vital to safeguarding individual privacy and fostering public trust in the national ID system.

The introduction of advanced biometric measures in the New Generation National ID Project further complicates the privacy and human rights discourse. While biometric technologies can enhance the accuracy and efficiency of identification systems, their deployment without robust human rights safeguards can lead to serious abuses. The mandatory requirement of the national ID for accessing public services, employment, financial transactions, and healthcare intensifies the exclusion of vulnerable groups unable to obtain these IDs.

To tackle these critical issues, Unwanted Witness proposes several recommendations. These include lowering the financial barriers to obtaining and replacing IDs, ensuring adherence to data protection laws, and enhancing the transparency and accountability of NIRA. Additionally, the paper advocates for the inclusion of marginalized populations in the ID registration process and the development of alternative identification methods to prevent exclusion.

Uganda stands at a pivotal juncture with the renewal of its national ID system. The current approach, with its significant deficiencies, highlights the urgent need for a transparent, inclusive, and accountable identification framework. Unwanted Witness’s position paper outlines a comprehensive roadmap for reforms that can protect human rights, enhance privacy, and ensure equitable access to the benefits of a national ID system for all Ugandans. As the government initiates mass registration this July, it is imperative that these recommendations are implemented to build a more just and equitable society.