Digital Rights; its becoming hard to enjoy them in Uganda!


Digital rights describe the human rights that allow individuals to access, use, create and publish digital media or to access and use computers, other electronic devices or communications networks. There is recognition at the global level that the rights citizens enjoy online need to be protected as much as the human rights that are enjoyed in the physical world.

According to the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Internet freedom is a basic human right and that people have the right to freedom of expression on the Internet. In Uganda over 6million people are connected to the Internet majority of whom use mobile enable devices to access the service.

Where as article 29 of the 1995 Uganda constitution guarantees citizens’ right to freedom of expression and speech both offline and online, however there are threats to freedom of expression online in Ugandan. The Unwanted Witness Uganda takes note of the following actions by the current government that appears to negate constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression.

Repressive Laws; the current National Resistance Movement government has enacted a set of preventive online legislations. These legislations are not meant to promote online usage but rather create censorship among users thus curtailing digital rights.

In a period of less than 5years, government has enacted several restrictive pieces of legislations including Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010, Computer Misuse Act, 2011 and the Communication Regulation Authority Act, 2013 all intended to control, infringe and deny citizens enjoy their online freedoms. The interception of communications act was meant to legalize government surveillance. And it gives undue powers to state organs to intercept private communications and potentially threaten free expression.

Also, in 2015, parliament amended the Anti Terrorism Act, 2002, which sidelines judicial process for one to carryout surveillance but also, it introduces stringent clauses that allow government to freeze one’s bank account on suspicion of working or being supported by terrorists.

In May 2013, government announced the formation of the social media-monitoring Centre intended to cause self-censorship among users of the highly visited social media sites. To this effect some government departments ordered curtails on citizens’ right to seek, receive and impart information through digital technologies creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

SIM Card Registration; In, 2012 the Uganda Communications Act was passed creating a new media regulatory body (Uganda Communication Commission) that has been highly criticized for its lack of independence from the government. Early 2013 the regulator instructed all telecommunication service providers in the country to undertake mass registration of all SIM Cards and mobile Internet amid concerns that the registration requirements infringed on the right to privacy given the lack of a necessary data protection law. Nevertheless, the exercise was conducted and early November 2015, the regulator renewed pressure onto the service providers to disconnect all unregistered subscribers by 30th November 2015 or be penalized.

Surveillance cameras; the national security committee is hiring companies including vlatacom a Serbian company to install both visible and hidden cameras in and around Kampala, the Uganda’s Capital. Some of the equipment being used have Motorola trademarks. A joint security team manages the tracking system.  This exercise, started in 2014 to date. Our safety and privacy depend on secure communication tools and technologies. The government has to engage other stakeholders to come with standards that would balance between national security and protecting people’s right to privacy and expression online.

Illegal Surveillance; The current government has invested heavily in secret surveillance on citizens including opposition politicians, Journalists and activists.

“In December 2011, the Directorate of Technical Intelligence of the UPDF purchased a powerful surveillance tool that they would use to illegally spy on protest organizers, government officials, media houses and private citizens,” reads part of the surveillance report titled ‘For God and my President’ by Privacy International.

The report further indicates that government procured a surveillance malware called FinFisher and installed it onto the WIFI of hotels in Kampala, Entebbe and Masaka.

Technology allows people to connect with one another at a speed and scale unimaginable and with a degree of anonymity. It is therefore crucial for the current generation to preserve privacy and fundamental freedom online for a secured online future.