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Law requiring registration of SIM cards in Uganda a threat to privacy

UPDATE: Uganda Communications Communication, government sued over SIM card registration (HRNJ-Uganda, 8 February 2013)

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 21 September 2012 - The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) calls upon the Ugandan government to immediately halt the registration of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, due to the lack of a necessary law to protect the data collected. The process is a curtailment of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

HRNJ-Uganda notes that the law used to register SIM Cards contravenes Article 27(2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. This article states that no person shall be subjected to interference within the privacy of their home, correspondence, communication or other property.

The entire SIM card registration process is inconsistent with the regulations of the Interception of Communications Act, 2010 and the regulations of the Interception of Communications Instrument. These laws mandate telecommunication companies to register SIM cards.

The objective of the Interception of Communication's Act, 2010 is to provide lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications throughout the course of their transmission, be they through telecommunication, postal or other related services in Uganda. HRNJ-Uganda notes that all of the information collected throughout this compulsory process is not protected, as it remains in the hands of telecommunication companies. This makes it easy for anyone to access people's private information.

"This untamed process also harbors dangers of tampering with information and fabricating or altering information to falsely implicate others who are critical [of] 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," says HRNJ-Uganda's National Coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

Ssebaggala says that the process should be stopped until a comprehensive data protection law is put in place. Such a law would govern the collection, storage, access, use, protection and security of personal information. It would also protect the right to privacy. Once a data protection law is put in place, the government should instruct all telecommunication service providers to follow the regulations, as stipulated by the law.

Ssebaggala warned that the registration process began early this year and is slated to end in March 2013. Telecommunication companies have threatened to deactivate all SIM cards that are not registered by that time.

HRNJ-Uganda analyzed registration forms of four telephone service providers and found that they are in total disregard of rule 7(3) of The Regulation of Interception, 2011 of Communication Instrument. Said instrument states: "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, along with other members of the cluster on freedom of expression and information, met the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), the Honorable Ruhakana Rugunda. In June, the groups met with officials of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to raise 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.

Read the full statement

Case history

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