Civil society concerned about increased gov't surveillance

Peter Gwayaka Magelah

Peter Gwayaka Magelah

Civil Society organizations are calling on government to operationalize the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 so as to limit the illegal collection of people’s personal data.

Speaking at a symposium organized in Kampala by Unwanted Witness, a human rights organization, Peter Gwayaka Magelah, the programs manager of Chapter Four Uganda, another human rights organization, said although the president assented to the Act in February this year, the minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is yet to table in parliament regulations necessary for its operationalization.

“Do we understand the law? Are we safe with our privacy? How much data is in private hands? What is it being used for?” Gwayaka said while challenging the participants.

He explained that the law aims at protecting the privacy of individuals and personal data by regulating the collection and processing of personal information. 

“The Act applies to the collection, holding and using of personal data within Uganda and data collected outside Uganda relating to Ugandan citizens,” Gwayaka said. 

He explained that whilst the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) is charged with enforcement of the law, the Act creates the docket of Data Protection Office (DPO) which is charged with its supervision and enforcement.

“NITA isn’t an independent authority as the law claims since it’s supervised by the minister of Information and Communication Technology. The Act fails to create a sovereign body to oversee the way in which entities use personal data of individuals. The law has no provision for withdrawing consent by the data subject. This is means, that once consent is given the data subject’s rights will be limited and can only be exercised subject to the discretion of the data controller, data processor, or the authority,” Gwayaka said. 

Dorothy Mukasa, the chief executive officer of Unwanted Witness said the government has intensified its surveillance efforts by installing hi-tech CCTV and facial recognition equipment in 85 per cent of Kampala Metropolitan Area.

According to Mukasa, the state’s capabilities in surveillance have been upgraded so much that the systems can harness data collected by private cameras and link them to the police monitoring system

Another manifestation of the state’s interfering with people’s privacy is through communication through numerous ways such as SIM card registration, online monitoring and use of spyware,” Mukasa said.

To buttress her argument that the state is using spyware, Mukasa cited the 2015 report of Privacy International in which the government was accused of using the Finfisher technology procured from Gamma Group International, ostensibly to spy on the political opposition.

This was done via collection of personal data, intrusion of systems, interception of communication and also manipulation of transmissions. The symposium was attended by over 50 participants drawn from government, academia, NGOs, civil society, private sector, diplomatic community, human rights defenders among others.


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