Hiding behind the color of the law to stifle Internet freedoms; government should review and amend the cyber legal framework – says the Unwanted Witness Uganda

As we join the rest of the world to commemorate the internet freedoms day 2015, the Unwanted Witness Uganda would like to ask the government to expeditiously review and amend cyber laws that have been used to stifle citizen’s enjoyment of online freedoms and digital rights in 2014. During the year incidents which threatened the enjoyment of citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression online among others were experienced.

These online threats were facilitated by the existing Ugandan cyber laws such as the Regulation of interception of communication’s Act 2010, Computer misuse Act, the anti pornography act and the National information and Technology Act.

The year under review witnessed a number of unpleasant online incidents with less regard to citizens’ rights to privacy and if unchecked we anticipate tougher times ahead for online activists and other users.  These incidents that sought to control cyber space include;

  1. Militarization of the Internet freedom; the country witnessed the establishment of internet monitoring units in major security organs namely; Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), Internal Security Organ (ISO), External Security Organ (ESO), the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and State House, Entebbe. These units do not only act as threats but cause self censorship among citizens from expressing freely and exercising their right to access information online.
  2. Government’s request for a supplementary budget of over US $ 80,000,000 approximately 200billion shillings to procure surveillance equipment in order to enforce the Regulation of Interception of Communication’s Act 2010. Although the Unwanted witness is not against this request and procurement, we are highly concerned about the enforcement of the Act without standards on surveillance in place. This exposes citizens’ rights and internet freedoms to gross abuse by both the state and non state actors.
  3. Well as Unwanted Witness commends government for the drafting process of the privacy and data protection bill, UW calls for expedition of the process before 2016 general elections. As Unwanted Witness, we fear that failure to have a law in place before 2016, infringements on citizens’ right to privacy are likely to worsen given the trend of the recent general elections including 2011.
  4. Anti-people cyber legal framework; the current cyber regime seems to take away people’s rights and freedoms online as government is seen to control people’s enjoyment of rights and freedoms online rather than facilitating the development of the sector . Such laws should be amended to include the wide opinion of the population who are also key stakeholders.
  5. Establishment of a cyber crime unit under the Uganda police force. The operations of the unit have a chilling effect on the enjoyment of online freedoms and digital rights as its powers are not known to the public.
  1. Social media is being targeted; besides cyber laws security agencies have utilized other regulations such as the penal code to incriminate online activists as witnessed in 2014. Jonathan Akweteireho, an online activist was arrested and his computer confiscated by police in Mid-western Uganda. Although Akweteireho was arrested for running a petition on his social media platform about a bad road in his home district of Masindi, the police used the penal code to charge him for incitement to violence and have reported on police bond for more than five times and continues to count.

The Unwanted Witness Uganda therefore calls upon government to prioritize citizens’ privacy online in the current digital and information age as emphasized by article 27 of the 1995 Uganda constitution which prohibits interference with any person’s privacy, home, correspondence, communication or other property.

“Privacy is crucial for upholding democracy, freedom and security as well as human rights. The Unwanted witness will thus continue advocating for an inclusive enactment of regulations that protect the privacy of all citizens including online users and also set standards for collection, storage and use of individual data by both state actors and private companies.” Says, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Unwanted Witness Chief Executive Officer

“We anticipate that as Ugandans prepare for 2016 general elections more citizens are likely to fall prey through the actions of both state and non state actors”, adds Wokulira.

Unwanted witness Uganda is a civil society organization that advocates for safe and accessible online platforms for the realization of human rights and good governance in Uganda.

By @wokulira

 

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