8 February 2013

Uganda: Human Rights Activists Want Data Protection Law

Human rights activists have appealed to government to halt the SIM card registration exercise until a law on how the collected data will be stored, used, and accessed is enacted.

This follows allegations that some telecommunication service providers have started using the data people have been providing since the exercise started in March last year for 'other' reasons.

Geoffrey Ssebaggala, the national coordinator Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda (HRNJ) sounded the urgency for the law.

"A law has to be put in place. At times strange people call you and you don't know where they got your number from. But they know all your details, everything about you."

He was speaking at a communication stakeholder's symposium at Hotel Africana.

He said the law should spell clearly how the data will be used, and for how long the telecom companies can keep it, and whether if someone chose to unsubscribe they can have their data deleted.

He argued that ordinarily, companies should not give away someone's personal information without their consent or a court order demanding their information be availed.

"But without a law, how do you sue a company that has divulged your information minus your permission? What charges do you press?" asked Ssebaggala.

"This leaves us vulnerable, at the hands of these telecom companies who are after making money and their ownership can change hands anytime."

Since the SIM card registration exercise started in March last year, about 50% telephone users have registered their SIM cards.

However, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has warned that they will disconnect anyone who will not have registered their SIM cards by February 28.

Kiboga East Constituency MP James Kyewalabye, also a member of the parliamentary committee on ICT affairs promised that the committee will consult with the ICT ministry to see how they can come up with a policy regarding data protection.

He said SIM card registration was necessary for national security.

"It is also necessary in case someone is in trouble and they can only make a phone call because they can easily be traced."

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