10 February 2013

Uganda: UCC Sued Over SIM Card Registration

Journalists under the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda - Chapter (HRNJ-U) have gone to Court to block the planned switching off of unregistered sim cards by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

Through Web Advocates and Legal Brain Trust (LBT), HRNJ-U on Thursday filed a civil suit seeking, among other things, a declaration that the UCC order to switch off unregistered SIM-cards by March 1, 2013 or any other deadline set without obtaining parliamentary approval is inoperative, null and void.

"The Applicant [HRNJ] is seeking a declaration that the Respondent [UCC] and their servants or agents have not carried out structured and sufficient public consultations, sensitization and awareness-raising activities to justify the imminent switching off of the users of unregistered SIM-cards on 1st March 2013 or any other deadline set by the Respondents without obtaining parliamentary approval," the plaint says in part.

Haruna Kanaabi, a former editor of the defunct Shariat and former secretary general of Uganda Journalist Association, is one of four journalists who filed supporting affidavits. He says that when he read both the Regulations of Interception of Communications Act of 2010 and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Instrument, he found them faulty.

Journalists argue that the SIM card registration exercise infringes on the right to privacy and freedom of expression since peoples' private information is surrendered to private telecommunication companies. Kiboga East MP James Kabajjo and a member on the Parliamentary Committee on ICT gave the journalists' move on qualified support.

"I appreciate your efforts to advocate for the data protection law because it is important in as far as keeping privacy of Ugandans but the SIM card registration exercise that is ongoing is very important because it will assist government to detect illegal acts like terrorism," Kabajjo said.

Since last year, telecommunication companies launched a SIM Card registration exercise with the view of introducing measures to track perpetrators of the dangerous acts. The Applicants also want court to find that UCC's action threatens and undermines the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in Articles 32(1), 35(1) and 36 of the Constitution, because it conducts the SIM card registration process in a manner that is insensitive to persons with disabilities, minorities and marginalized groups.

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