Government of Uganda must respect human rights in the use of Surveillance technologies to fight Coronavirus, says Unwanted Witness Uganda.

Kampala, 22nd/04/2020; Unwanted Witness Uganda has today written a formal letter to the Ministry of Information Communications Technology and National Guidance demanding for strict observance of human rights for any intended use of surveillance technologies to fight COVID-19.

In a letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT, Hon. Vincent Bagiire and copied to Minister Judith Nabakooba, calls on government to respect its human rights obligation and restrain from exercising excessive surveillance powers that is neither lawful, necessary nor proportionate in responding to the current health crisis.

“While Uganda like all countries globally is experiencing extraordinary times, human rights law still applies. Any innovation aimed at tracking and monitoring citizens should strictly be carried out in line with human rights law, particularly Article 27 of the 1995 Uganda constitution, Article 12 of the universal declaration of human rights and the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019,”, said Dorothy Mukasa, the Chief Executive Officer, Unwanted Witness, Uganda.

She added that in all pandemics especially where casual person to person transmission occurs there is a need to ensure that the response is firmly grounded in human rights, to avoid threats to privacy and freedom of expression.

On April 15, 2020, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance published a call for digital solutions to support the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including public health surveillance and contact tracing.

Technology plays an important role in saving lives by increasing access to health care once properly utilized. Contact tracing and public health surveillance as one of the solutions being solicited can ensure that the infection spread retards or stops the pace of the pandemic. However, such digital surveillance powers can equally threaten privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and degrade public trust thus undermining effectiveness of intended public health response.

The Ministry of ICT is therefore called upon to observe transparency privacy standards which permit adoption of contact tracing and public health surveillance efforts without flagrant violation of human rights by meeting the following:

  1. Contact tracing must be adopted in a lawful, necessary and proportionate way, with the need to observe commitments to privacy and medical confidentiality. The Ministry must be transparent about the innovation to foster public scrutiny.
  2. In the case where it’s valuable for individuals to share data, systems must provide voluntary mechanisms in accordance with ethical principles of personal decision making including disclosure and consent.
  3. Contact tracing and public health surveillance must be temporary such that when the pandemic is over, such extraordinary measures be put to an end and held to account so that the pandemic does not serve as an excuse for indefinite surveillance.
  4. Government must take every effort to protect people’s data including ensuring sufficient security of any personal data collected by the application.

About Unwanted Witness

Unwanted Witness Uganda is a non-partisan and non-profit organization working on the intersection of technology and human rights in Uganda.

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