Critics say the Computer Misuse Amendment Bill, 2022, which is under parliamentary scrutiny, “attacks freedom of opinion and aims to gag everyone from thinking.”
Until now, sharing a video/photo of a child without seeking permission from the parent/guardian or taking a photo of an errant adult was not an offense. But the legislation’s main sponsor, Muhammad Nsereko, the member of parliament for Kampala Central, wants parliament to formally vote to tag a seven or 10-year jail term to the action.
Nsereko demands that before recording a video or photographing a parent abusing his or her child, you have to seek permission from that parent. Also, anyone convicted under the proposed bill shall not be allowed to hold public office for 10 years.
You also risk 10 years in prison if you record or take someone’s photo without his or her approval. If you find someone easing himself or herself along the road, according to the draft legislation, you should seek permission before you either record or take that photo.
On July 19, 2022, Muhammad Nsereko, introduced the controversial Computer Misuse Amendment Bill, 2022 to parliament. The bill has drawn harsh criticism and a deep sense of shock from social media users. Critics say that if the bill is approved in its current state it will be used to gag digital rights of expression.
It is currently being processed by the parliamentary committee on Information and Communications Technology. Members of the public are invited to give their views. The proposed amendments are contentious.
The bill introduces an amendment to section 12 of the existing computer Misuse Act, 2011. It also proposes the insertion of sections 22 (A) on the unauthorized sharing of information about children; 23 (A) on hate speech; 24 (A) on sharing unsolicited information; and 26 (A) on sharing misleading or malicious information into the act.
Muhammad Nsereko, the mover of the motion, argues that the existing laws “do not specifically address the regulation of information sharing on social media” or are “not adequate to deter the vice.”
The legislation aims to enhance the provisions on unauthorized access to information or data, prohibiting the sharing of any information relating to a child without authorization from a parent or guardian. It also prohibits the sending or sharing of information that promotes hate speech, prohibits the sending or sharing of false, malicious, and unsolicited information; and restricts persons convicted of any offense under the Computer Misuse law from holding public office for 10 years.
Interviewed for comment by The Observer, lawyer Michael Aboneka said the proposed amendments are in bad faith.
“The freedom of opinion is under attack if these amendments are passed in their current state. They want to gag everyone from thinking. Such a law should not be left to pass. The drafters of the bill are looking at social media as a problem. Leaders should develop a thick skin to criticism. They should transcend petty things.”
“Some clauses like the one on hate speech are ambiguous. The ingredients of hate speech are not spelt out. The amendments directly attack the right to offend and dissent. If such a law is approved as it is, the country shall have a society that cannot debate anything freely. People shall self-censor for fear of being imprisoned. Why should a member of parliament comment on a matter online yet they are sure that the law could be selectively applied? Before they know it, they shall be convicted and barred from running for office for 10 years,” said Aboneka
“The amendments seek to largely protect the right to privacy, prohibition of unlawful access to data and spreading of false information. These are already protected by existing legal frameworks like the Constitution, the Children’s Act, the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019, the Penal Code Act, Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019, etc. These laws provide layers of protection that the bill seeks to do. The amendment will only duplicate the provisions of these laws,” he said.
Aboneka added, “On protecting children, this law is against the children. In most cases, police have responded to public cries of child abuse through social media. How then do you go to a parent mistreating their child and ask them to allow you to film them while mistreating the child? The government at some point was running the stay in your lane campaign (largely to stop bad driving). This law means that before you take that photo of an errant driver, you first go to him or her; request permission to take and post the photo on social media. Most citizen journalists will now be silenced”.
In his August 10, 2022, presentation before the ICT and National Guidance committee of parliament, Aboneka said, “According to the bill, the offense of hate speech is hinged on the resultant action rather than the intention of the person sharing the information. Who will determine the nature and magnitude of hostility and divisions? What happens when the accused person does not have a computer at the time the information was shared? How shall we deal with this?”
“Before any law passes, there is a regulatory impact assessment. I want to beseech the chairperson to task the mover (Nsereko) to produce the regulatory impact as- assessment of the bill before the committee. It will give reasons why the bill is needed,” Aboneka said.
In their July 29, 2022, statement, the Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA); referred to the proposed changes to Uganda’s computer misuse law as a blow to civil liberties. CIPESA is a non-governmental organization that focuses on decision-making that facilitates the use of ICT in support of development and poverty reduction.
CIPESA argued that “The proposed amendments do not address emerging technological challenges, have unfounded and redundant provisions, and stipulate highly punitive penalties. These amendments potentially have adverse effects on digital rights including freedom of expression and access to information. They fail to address the retrogressive provisions in the current law. The ambiguities presented by section 24 on cyber harassment and section 25 on offensive communication have been used to criminalize freedom of expression and are the subject of a Constitutional Court petition seeking to declare them unconstitutional...”
“The current proposals do not address some key cyber-crimes that are currently affecting vulnerable communities such as women, for instance trolling, cyber harassment, unauthorized sharing of intimate images, and other forms of online violence against women and girls. A justifiable amendment should be comprehensive, addressing concerns that have emerged since the Computer Misuse Act was enacted,” the CIPESA statement read in part.
The Computer Misuse Act, of 2011 has been used previously to suppress digital rights including free expression and access to information. In 2019, Academic and social critic Dr Stella Nyanzi was convicted of cyber harassment contrary to section 24 of the Act but was acquitted of the offensive communications charge, which is proscribed under section 25.
In December 2021, author and government critic Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested, detained, and prosecuted for alleged offensive communication. Kakwenza was accused of offensive communication against the person of President Museveni and his son Lt. Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.