Right to Privacy threatened ahead of 2016-Activists

Communication SurvillianceActivists have warned that as the country draws closer to the general elections slated for 2016, chances of violating the right to privacy are on steady increase.

The warning was issued by the Chief Executive Officer Unwanted Witness Uganda, an organization that advocates for digital freedoms, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebagala at a one day National Conference on Communication Surveillance and the right to privacy.

Speaking at the conference that attracted IT officers, Lawyers, journalists and program officers’ from  different organizations, Ssebagala warned that amid the increasing communication surveillance in the country, there more chances of abusing personal information collected by both private and public agencies.

Referring to earlier processes like the National Security Information Systems (NSIS) registration exercise also known as the National Identification registration, Ssebagala predicts that violations and abuse of people’s the right to privacy will increase.  Just like for the earlier case of the SIM Card registration, this National Identification Registration exercise was also conducted in the absence of data protection law.

So according to Ssebagla, the infringement on one’s right to privacy may  increase, mainly targeting Human rights defenders, government critics, opposition politicians, journalists among others during the forthcoming general elections in 2016. Subsequently this will undermine other related rights and freedoms like the freedom of expression.

And even ordinary individual members of the general public are not safe from the online violations, which may result into physical human rights abuses. This is because a lot of personal data is now out there without protection from misuse.

The Misuse of this personal data is not limited to government agents but also other ill-motivated individuals that case easily access this vital inform either by bribing those in charge which can be very dangerous to the safety of the people.

There already examples from the previous general elections where a certain presidential Candidate managed to campaign via people’s mobile telephone. Now Ssebagala wonders how these politicians access citizens’ information, and mobile phones without their consent.

There was a request for a supplementary budget totaling to over 200 billion shillings for government to procure surveillance equipment in order to enforce the regulation of the Interception of communication Act and at the same time citizen’s data has been taken during the National ID registration yet there is no enabling law to protect this data, which is worrying, ssebagala said.

“the interest of government, we know is going to really harm its opponents ”-Ssebagala .

Makerere University Human Rights and law don, Dr. Kakungulu Mayambala says that the current legal framework including the computer Misuse Act, Ant-Terrorism, regulation of interception of communication Act, Anti-pornography law among laws makes it easy for the duty bearers to contravene article 27 of the constitution that provides for the right to privacy.

This is because these laws give some exceptional situations that can be used to exploit someone’s right to privacy. For instance, in the name of protecting national security, fighting crime, upholding morals or for any other public good. But the million dollar question is who defines such situations to justify communication surveillance on an individual and thus violating their right to privacy.

Presenting a paper on strengthening Communication Surveillance and the right to privacy in Uganda, Dr. Mayambala urged members of the civil society, IT practitioners and lawyers to take it upon themselves to legally challenge the unfriendly legislations, if they are uphold the right to privacy as enshrined in the supreme law.

“There is need for a public litigation to challenge these laws that are contravening the constitutional article 27 that provides for the right to privacy”- Dr. Mayambala.

However there reports that a draft bill on Data Protection is in the offering and this is expected to address the concerns of having people’s data at the hands of government agencies and private companies. But still activists wish that unlike in other previous law enactment processes, this time round the authorities should involve the public in the enactment of this particular law since it directly affects them.