Unwanted Witness raises red flag on government move to surrender ID data to private telecoms

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Unwanted Witness-Uganda, a digital rights none-government Organization that tracks internet freedoms and freedom of expression has sharply opposed the decision by government to share the National Identity card data base with private telecom companies to verify Sim card ownership.

In a March 31 2017 meeting with telecom companies, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the country’s telecom regulator, security and National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) agreed to share the national ID database with these companies to ascertain true SIM Card ownership.

However, the decision has met stiff opposition from Unwanted Witness which raised security and privacy concern.

Addressing a press conference in Kampala Tuesday, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Chief Executive Officer, Unwanted Witness-Uganda said, “We fear for the safety of groups like human rights defenders particularly journalists whose work majorly survives on communication and therefore this move is killing information sources and also facilitates government’s clampdown on individuals with divert views.”

Ssebaggala said that it’s the responsibility of government to uphold and protect freedoms including the right to anonymity, encryption and privacy, which is a gateway to enjoyment of all other freedoms.

He thus called on government to halt its decision pending the consideration and passage of the privacy and data protection bill into law which is currently shelved in parliament.

Otherwise, allowing private telecom companies access to citizens’ database without that enabling law, closes further the opportunity for one to anonymously communicate, according to Ssebaggala.

In any case, telecom companies have on several occasions shared people’s content through back doors, including previous general elections where telecom companies shared people’s data without their consent with political parties to canvass for votes, an act that is inconsistent with the constitution.

Article 27 (2) of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda stipulates that, “no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.

It’s on this background therefore, that Ssebaggala said that “we call upon government to desist from surrendering citizens’ personal data to private business entities to which they have no control and request that all information in custody of private telecom companies is handed over to government with immediate effect.”