Letter to the Ministry of ICT; calling for the observance of Human Rights in the application of surveillance Technologies to fight COVID-19

To: Hon. Bagiire Vincent Waiswa
Permanent Secretary
Ministry of ICT and National Guidance
ICT House, Parliamentary Avenue

Cc: Hon Nabakooba Nalule Judith (MP)
Minister of ICT and National Guidance
ICT House, Parliamentary Avenue

Dear Sir,

We refer to the emergency call1 dated April 15th, 2020 soliciting for digital solutions to support the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in particular section “A2” (public Health Surveillance and contact tracing) of the call.

We are cognizant of the fact that technology plays an important role in saving lives by increasing access to health care. Once properly utilized, contact tracing and public health surveillance can retard the spread of the infection or stops the pace of the pandemic. Likewise, such digital surveillance powers can threaten privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, and degrade public trust thus undermining the effectiveness of intended public health response.

We would like to remind the ministry that while the country and the world, in general, is experiencing extraordinary times, human rights law still applies. Therefore, any innovation aimed at tracking and monitoring citizens should strictly be carried out in line with human rights, particularly Article 27 of the 1995 Uganda constitution and Article 12 of the universal declaration of human rights as well as the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019. In consideration of International human rights principles.

  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 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 should 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 citizens’ personal data including ensuring sufficient security of any personal data collected by the application.

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

Yours sincerely,
Dorothy Mukasa
Chief Executive Officer
Email: info@unwantedwitness.org