President Yoweri Museveni has signed into law the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, 2010, giving powers to security officials to listen into private communication if they have sufficient reason to suspect the communication is in aid of criminal activity. (The Monitor Newspaper.)
This is something that has been brewing for years and was passed by parliament last year and now has been signed into law, a few days after the Al Shabab bombings. And my fears have been growing steadily. Its an open secret that the government has been tapping phones, illegally, for years. Everyone has learnt to watch what they say on the phone and others keep multiple phone lines hoping it will provide privacy.
The only saving grace was that they could not use the evidence gathered this way in a court of law.
Telecom companies are obliged to give government security agencies cooperation to place their (agencies’) tapping gadgets on their network equipment with the aim of enabling the security men access private conversations or exchanges.
But according to the law, only a High Court judge can grant permission to a state security operative to tap into a person’s communication. The Act provides for the establishing of a monitoring centre manned, operated and controlled by designated technical experts appointed by the Security minister.(The Monitor Newspaper)
Now initially in the draft law all that was required was that the minister of security, or the inspector general of police, or the head of the prisons service, or either of the heads of the external/ internal security intelligence services, or the army commander could order for your phone to be tapped.
Clearly this was scaled back to require judicial consent for such an act. However, with constant tapping taking place and the wanton disregard for the laws of the land, can we honestly believe the officers mentioned above or their juniors will not take liberties with the civil liberties of the man on the street, or even more likely, those of people considered ‘enemies of the movement system.’ And with the business world tied into an incestuous relationship with the political and security apparatus it is foreseable that commercial communications could be intercepted and abused.
Having multiple sim cards is pointless as everyone is required to register their phone lines. Thus the only way to really have a really private conversation is to do it the old fashioned way, at the pub huddled over a bottle of beer. So there is some benefit to all this, we just might regain the social contact we have lost due to the advent of the mobile phone.
But then again, there is an ominous erosion of civil freedoms in Uganda, it is slow, but very steady. Currently in kampala one needs clearance from the Inspector General of Police, no less, in order for more than 5 people to meet in one place. He insisted that all one needs is clearance to meet, not permission. Splitting hairs? I agree, but the implimentation with be interesting to observe and politics will intrude………elections are round the corner. After all who really can keep track of all the Kwanjulas, night prayers, funeral vigils, birthday parties etc in kampala….it is impossible!!!
With the Public Order Management Bill also on its way to Parliament, will Ugandans finally be denied the right to meet, talk in privacy, protest in public or speak on a radio talk show.
There is a Bill Of Rights in our 1995 Constitution, does it mean anything to our members of parliament. I am not holding my breath, they would sell their mothers for a kilo of maize meal.
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