18 July 2010

Uganda: Introducing National IDs Should Be a Priority

Kampala — Parliament has passed the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill, seeking to authorise the tapping of telephones and other private communication for security purposes.

The Bill will, however, become law after the President assents to it. The Bill provides for lawful interception and monitoring of certain communication in the course of transmission. It also allows the monitoring of postal or any other related service or system.

When it comes into force, telecommunication service providers will be required to register SIM cards of their clients.

The Bill had generated a great deal of debate, both within Parliament and outside. The political opposition particularly opposed the Bill, arguing that it infringes on the rights of citizens.

The opposition politicians were also worried that the Bill, when enacted, would be liable to abuse. Some local and international human rights organisations were also critical of the Bill.

Nevertheless, there are legitimate reasons for this law, particularly in view of the threat of terrorism. Fortunately during consideration of the Bill, Government did address the concerns of the opposition and the human rights activists.

For instance, powers originally given to the security minister to issue the communication interception warrants were removed and instead given to a High Court Judge.

The judge will also be required to issue the communication interception warrant on the basis of compelling reasons. The judge must be convinced that the offence under investigation is life threatening.

Alternatively, the judge will have to be convinced that there is a threat to national security or national economic interests. In effect, security agencies won't be at liberty to eavesdrop private conversations.

However, the Interception of Communication law can only be effective with the existence of national identity cards that would ensure people don't give false information.

Many dubious people do not carry authentic IDs and neither is there a database where bio-data for every Ugandan is stored and can be retrieved should need arise.

The absence of national IDs is a threat to national security. The sooner government expedites issuance of national IDs the better.

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