Parliament’s failure to regulate surveillance threatens Human Rights in Uganda.

Kampala, January 26, 2022, Uganda’s increasing adoption of surveillance technology in public spaces does not correspond with protection safeguards, threatening the fundamental rights of millions of citizens. This is contained in a new report published today by Unwanted Witness Uganda, which also points to parliament’s shortcomings in regulating surveillance technologies.

The report is an outcome of in-depth literature review of a multitude of official documents, interviews with legislators, law enforcement, the general public, and civil society.

The report notes that the Parliament of Uganda has sacrificed the protection of fundamental human rights at the altar of national security. “Over the years Parliament has overly concentrated on appropriation neglecting its key oversight role, especially in government’s quest to expound the use of surveillance technologies,” said Dorothy Mukasa, Executive Director, Unwanted Witness.

Based on official documents, the parliament of Uganda has appropriated over $126million to fund a CCTV surveillance project fitted with pervasive facial recognition technology but the same parliament has never considered a law to regulate the system from potential abuse.

Furthermore, parliament has never demanded or sanctioned a privacy impact assessment to inform the legislature’s oversight mandate.

It is concerning that already reports of abuse have emerged over the past years, with police sharing face images of demonstrators on social media towards 2021 general elections as well as allegations of having Huawei technicians help intelligence officials in Uganda to crack encrypted communications of popular opposition politicians. Funding for Surveillance projects like CCTV cameras is debated and appropriated by the Parliament of Uganda, in a legal vacuum.

“Transparency, accountability, oversight, and adequate procurement process are essential to prevent public-private surveillance partnerships from creating and enabling human rights abuses. This report highlights the shortcomings of Uganda’s parliament in the roll-out of Huawei CCTV cameras” Caitlin Bishop, Campaigns Officer, Privacy International.

Facial recognition technology has become increasingly pervasive around the world, raising concerns about potential rights abuses. Some countries are considering a total ban, and last year in May, officials in San Francisco voted to ban its use by city authorities.

The report urges Uganda Parliament to call for a moratorium on the deployment of pervasive surveillance technologies until vital human rights safeguards are in place, to deter further potential abuse. Safeguards should include the enactment of a law to regulate surveillance taking into consideration the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality.

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