Enforcing SIM Card registration by Uganda’s regulator endangers citizens

Press release; 

Enforcing SIM Card registration by Uganda’s regulator endangers citizens’ right to Anonymity, privacy and freedom of expression, says Unwanted Witness.

Kampala, 29th/03/2017; the Unwanted Witness Uganda is concerned with Uganda Communications Commission’s (UCC) directive to reinforce the SIM Card registration exercise with total disregard to protection of personal data, which is vital to the protection of both the right to freedom of expression and privacy.

In his statement to the media today, UCC Executive Director, Godfrey Mutabazi gave an ultimatum of 29th March 2017 at mid night as a deadline for all telecom service providers to deactivate unregistered and partially registered SIM Cards throughout the country.

Ugandan government sanctioned SIM Card registration exercise in 2013 with the view of curbing crime, the exercise commenced without an enabling law to regulate collection, storage and usage of personal data being surrendered into private custody, contrary to the 1995 Uganda constitution.

Article 27 (2) of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda stipulates that, “no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.

The latest requirements from UCC for new registration of SIM Card including either a valid national identity card or passport as identification documents, however this requirement has no legal backing.

The new developments come at a time when the regulator is pushing for amendments to scrap off parliament’s oversight role in its activities, raising issues of the regulator’s credibility and independence. The UCC’s amendment bill, 2015 is before parliament for its first reading.

“UCC should refrain from making directives that are inconsistence with the laws of Uganda. Seeking for individual passports and national identity cards in order to register SIM Cards is a violation of citizens’ right to privacy and will deny many citizens from accessing telephone and Internet services,” Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Chief Executive Officer, the Unwanted Witness-Uganda, urged.

Unwanted Witness is concerned that the mandatory SIM Card registration compromises the concept of anonymity for citizens, particularly human rights defenders including journalists whose sources of information is being threatened on a daily basis.

Uganda has in the recent witnessed the collection of citizens’ personal data through a number of exercises including SIM Card registration, National Identity Card registration and National Census without a privacy and data protection laws thus infringing on the citizens’ right to privacy.

Unwanted Witness therefore recommends that; Parliament should urgently pass the much awaited Privacy and Data Protection Bill, 2015 into law to protect the citizens’ personal data and privacy.

Also, decline to pass the amendment bill, which seek to scrap off the oversight role of parliament in the activities of UCC.