SIM Card registration in Uganda curtails freedom of expression and Right to Privacy.

Kampala, 21st/September/2012; the government of Uganda has been called upon to immediately halt the on-going SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card registration due to lack of a necessary law to protect the data collected. The process is a curtailment of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) notes that the law which is being used to register SIM Cards contravenes Art. 27(2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda which states that no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondences, communication or other property. In addition, the entire registration process is inconsistent with the Regulations on Interception of Communications Act 2010 and Regulations of Interception of Communications Instrument which mandates the telecommunication companies to register SIM cards.

The objective of the Interception of Communication’s Act, 2010 is to provide for the lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related service or system in Uganda. HRNJ-Uganda noted that all the information collected through this compulsory process is not protected as its still in the hands of private hands (telecommunication companies) which makes it easy for anyone to access people’s private information.

The National Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala said that the process should be stopped until a comprehensive data protection law is put in place to govern the collection, storage, access, use, protection and security of personal information as this would guarantee protection of the right to privacy. Once the Data Protection law is put in place, government should also instruct all telecommunication service providers to follow the regulations as stipulated by the law.

“This un-tamed process also harbors dangers of tampering with information and fabricating or altering information to falsely implicate others who are critical to the government. Invasion and interference of personal information and privacy might also be used to prosecute citizens for holding opinions not in favor of government.” He warned
The registration exercise begun early this year and is slated to end in March 2013 with the telecommunication companies threatening to deactivate all SIM cards which will not have been registered.

Registration forms of four telephone service providers analyzed by HRNJ-Uganda are in total disregard of rule 7(3) of The Regulation of Interception of Communication Instrument, 2011 which states that; ‘For avoidance of doubt every telecommunications service provider shall obtain the details of existing subscribers using Form 3 in the schedule.’
In April 2012, HRNJ-Uganda together with other members of the cluster on freedom of expression and information met the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda, and in June, met officials of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and raised concerns about the impropriety of the process and its effect on the right to privacy, access to information and freedom of expression, however no action was taken despite them appreciating the gravity of the matter.

The head of HRNJ-Uganda’ legal department Catherine Anite said that the registration forms contain declarations, terms and conditions that have dire consequences to their customers and pose a danger by creating contractual obligations between the subscriber and the telephone service provider. The statutory form in the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act never envisaged the formation of this contract, declarations, terms and conditions.

“Subscribers are deceptively conscripted into services which they did not subscribe to by signing declarations on the forms that explicitly bind the subscriber to register for mobile money services on the terms and conditions specified by the service providers. Unfortunately, subscribers are not given a chance to read and understand the terms and conditions neither are these terms translated or explained to them before appending their signatures. This practice is contrary to the rules of natural justice and contravenes the Illiterates Protection Act and does not cater for people with disabilities most especially the blind” Said Anite

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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