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Chapter: 

IV. Governance issues

Communications surveillance

In 2007, the government introduced the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill 2007. This bill would legalize the "interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through telecommunication, postal or any other related service or system in Uganda."1 The bill mandates the establishment of a communications monitoring center, to be operated by the Minister of Security in order to combat terrorism. Members of Parliament will decide the category of people whose phones will be tapped. Opponents question the constitutionality of the bill, but believe it will become law since the ruling party also controls the legislature.2 The Uganda ruling party readily admits to illegally tapping the phones of the opposing political parties.3

The Suppression of Terrorism Act permits an authorized officer to intercept the communications of a person and otherwise conduct surveillance of that person.4 The Act allows interception of letters and postal packages, telephone calls, fax messages, e-mails, and bank records, and allows rigorous security checks and surveillance of persons or premises. According to the government-owned daily newspaper, the President of Uganda stated that communication between opposition politicians and members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)5 have been monitored.6 This surveillance comes in the wake of the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and the continued instability in Northern Uganda.

The government has also begun to issue new passports equipped with biometric technology in order to control immigration into the country.7 In addition, in 2006 the government awarded a contract to issue computerized driving permits and licenses. The new licenses may include smart card or biometric technology.8

Open government

The right of access to information is also provided for in the Constitution. Article 41 provides that: "Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State, except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person."9

The Access to Information Act was enacted by Parliament in 2005. It contains the only statutory definition of privacy available in Uganda: "the right of a person to keep his or her matters and relationships secret."10 This Act also provides that the right of access should not interfere with the right to privacy.11 It remains to be seen how the implementation of this law will affect the state of privacy in Uganda.

International obligations

Uganda is a signatory to a number of international human rights legal instruments, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.12 Uganda therefore has obligations pertaining to the duty to ensure respect for personal privacy.

Footnotes

  • 1. "Uganda; Phone-Tapping To Be Legalized," The Monitor, May 30, 2007.
  • 2. Id.
  • 3. Id.
  • 4. The Suppression of Terrorism Act No. 14 of 2002.
  • 5. The Lord‚Äôs Resistance Army and Movement are listed as terrorist groups under the Schedule to the Suppression of Terrorism Act. No. 14 of 2002.
  • 6. New Vision Reporter, "Museveni Warns MPs ‚Äì MPs who Communicate with LRA Will Be Hanged'," New Vision, Vol. 18, No. 217, September 10, 2003, at 1.
  • 7. "Immigration Department to be Strengthened," The Monitor, Jun. 13, 2007.
  • 8. "Driving Permits Take Up Digital Trend," The Monitor, Aug. 1, 2006.
  • 9. Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, supra at Article 41.
  • 10. http://www.freedominfo.org/documents/uganda_ati_act_2005.pdf
  • 11. The Access to Information Act was enacted by the Parliament on March 13, 2005 and presented to the President for Assent.
  • 12. Ratified June 21, 1995.