Press release 

The Observer on Telecom Companies

SIM Card deactivation is to cause voter disenfranchisement, please halt it-says the Unwanted Witness

Kampala, 25th/November/2015, Unwanted witness Uganda is calling upon government to urgently stay the on-going SIM Card deactivation to avoid voter disenfranchisement during the 2016 general elections. Currently, Telecom operators in Uganda are facing pressure from the government to deactivate all unregistered SIM Cards.

MTN Uganda is the first telecom company to succumb to the pressure and deactivated over 300,000 while over six million of its customers have been blocked from making voice calls until their registration is verified.  Most clients of MTN Uganda who spoke to Unwanted Witness claim that they registered their SIM Cards a year ago with all bio-data but cannot make voice calls or face limitations to use their data/Internet.

“The timing under which government is pressurizing telecom service providers to generate data of all their subscribers or deactivate the unregistered ones is very suspicious. Voters who rely on their mobile phones to get electoral information will be denied the right to vote, as there are no available details for one to know where to vote from as changes on the National Voters Register happen without their notice. Also, the generation of bio-data of mobile phone users with no protection, most lives are going to be endangered and businesses will be affected too” says Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala CEO The Unwanted Witness.

Majority Ugandans who registered for National ID provided their SIM numbers as their primary point of contact whose data is being used by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and these Ugandans can’t register at this moment in time due to a number of issues including distance to the registration centers or facing financial constraints.

Well as currently there’s no National Voters’ Register and total number of voters is still unknown, the IEC established a code for anyone registered to dial it to know where they would vote from but also these same details (SIM numbers) are being used by IEC to provides updates on electoral process and engage voters among others.

The pressure from government to deactivate all unregistered SIM Cards comes weeks after the release of Privacy International’s report ‘For God and my President’ revealing how government purchased spyware for illegal surveillance targeting its critics for pre, during and post electoral process. The report further indicates that security agencies in collaboration with hotel owners have infected over 28 hotels’ WIFI in Kampala, Entebbe and Masaka targeting computer information and communications on the Internet.

The Unwanted Witness views the SIM Card registration process in Uganda as a denial of anonymity to people who use mobile services and that government’s pressure to telecom operators to carryout this exercise undermines the responsibility of telecoms to protect human rights of its customers.

Also, the aspect of anonymity and encryption in the digital age to enable citizens to exercise their freedom of opinion and expression during this electoral process is very vital. The government has to ensure that the right to privacy a gateway for a number of freedoms and rights is protected and promoted.

Although Ugandans are expected to go to the polls in February 2016 and government wants details of mobile service collected and made available to it but Uganda does not have a mechanism to store and regulate the accessibility of bio-datas of mobile service users and these actions will endanger the lives of users.

Despite being illegal under the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010 to conduct surveillance without
 a court warrant but the Anti-Terrorism Act (2002) gives almost unfettered discretion to intercept communications and carry out surveillance, with no judicial authorization.

However, Article 27 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states, “No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property”.

Unwanted Witness therefore recommends the following;

  1. The Uganda government should urgently stay the deactivation of SIM Card and reactivate already affected SIM Cards until the Privacy and Data Protection law is enacted.
  2. The process to register SIM Cards need to be planned better and carried out under a close supervision of Government and all data should be handed over to government upon collection by the Telecom companies
  3. The Diplomatic Community and Democracy and Human Rights Working Group of Development Partners should engage government for purposes of having a free and fair election.
  4. Political parties and independents presidential candidates should appreciate that disenfranchisement of voters will impact greatly the credibility of the entire electoral process.

For more information contact;
THE UNWANTED WITNESS – Uganda

Plot 41 Gadaffi Road, Makerere- Kampala
P. O. Box 71314 Clock Tower K’la
Telephone: +256 414 697 635
Email:         info@unwantedwitness.or.ug
Website: www.unwantedwitness.or.ug
Skype:        unwantedwitness
Twitter:     @unwantedwitness
Face book: Unwanted-witness-Uganda

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