Friday, July 16, 2010

Uganda Alert: Parliament passes Interception of Communications Bill

Kampala, 16th/07/2010: The Parliament of Uganda on Wednesday the 14th/07/2010 passed the highly contested Interception of Communication Bill locally referred to as “Phone tapping Bill” authorizing government security agencies to tap private conversations as part of wider efforts to combat terrorism-related offences in the country.

Legislators also passed a key amendment to the Bill, making it compulsory for all mobile phone subscribers in the country to register their SIM cards for security purposes. “The whole idea of registering SIM cards is to put an end to the current situation where [criminals] misuse SIM cards and cannot even be traced,” Security Minister Amama Mbabazi said.

Mr. Mbabazi has long argued that the new legislation would interrupt terrorism and related crimes which are increasingly being coordinated through modern telecommunications and the Internet.

The passing of the new Bill comes three days after Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab, on Monday claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bomb attacks in Kampala which killed 76 people watching the World Cup final.

If the President assents to the new law, the minister for Security will work out procedures to be followed by all telecom companies operating in the country to expedite the registration of SIM cards. A subscriber identity module (SIM) on a removable SIM card securely stores the service-subscriber key used to identify a subscriber on mobile telephony devices (such as mobile phones and computers).
In another critical amendment in the Bill, MPs unanimously voted to prevent the minister from issuing a warrant to tap private conversations and instead gave these powers to judges.

The Regulation of Interception of Commutations Bill, 2007 also seeks to provide for lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through telecommunication, postal or any other related service in Uganda.

The House passed another amendment which was suggested by Soroti Woman MP, Alice Alaso (FDC), authorizing phone-tapping by security agents deployed in the fight against drug and human trafficking. However, the cost of communication in the country could go up after some lawmakers led by Mr Patrick Oboi (Kumi) lost their bid to delete Clause 8 of the Bill, which imposes the monetary cost of installing phone-tapping equipment on the telecom companies.

The cost of communication is already a burden to our people,” Mr. Oboi said, adding: “If we don’t delete this provision that mandates telecom companies to install phone-tapping machines at their own cost, they will pass the cost to the consumers.”

The Bill provides for the establishing of a monitoring centre which will be manned, operated and controlled by designated technical experts appointed by the Security minister. When the new law comes into operation, information gleaned from lawfully intercepted communication will become admissible as evidence in court.

Activists since 2007 have challenge the bill saying that if passed it will infringe on the right to privacy.

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