SEPTEMBER 29, 2010: Museveni Passes Law On Telephone Tapping

Museveni Passes Law On Telephone Tapping

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Emmanuel Mulondo


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 controversial Bill, which attracted criticism from media and human rights activists, was passed by Parliament on July 14, just three days after the twin terrorist bombing at Kyadondo Rugby grounds and Ethiopian Village Bar and Restaurant, in which at least 76 people were killed. President Museveni assented to it two weeks later on August 5 and, according to the Uganda gazette it came into force on September 3.

Bill passing

Popularly referred to as the "Phone tapping law," the Act initiated by Security Minister Amama Mbabazi empowers security agencies to tap private conversations for security purposes. Mr Mbabazi, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, said during debate on the draft that the law was overdue. The bombings helped its quiet passage as it drowned out voices calling for careful scrutiny before its passage.

The Act makes it compulsory for all mobile phone users in the country to register their SIM cards for security purposes such that if a sim card is used for criminal communication and coordination, the user can be traced.

Communications that could be intercepted under the law include internet and postal exchanges. The minister is empowered to make regulations to follow in the implementation and now all telecom companies operating in the country have an obligation to register all customers who join their networks.

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.

Criticism

Now information secured in this covert way is admissible as evidence in courts of law, which has not been the case. Critics say though there's legitimate concern to fight terror, the government is likely to go beyond the spirit of the law and eavesdrop into purely personal or other non-security discourses.

Meanwhile, Information and National Guidance Minister Kabakumba Masiko yesterday expressed government's commitment to the full implementation of the Access to Information Act. Ms Masiko had just closed a dialogue to mark World Right to Know Day in Kampala.

Several speakers from both civil society and the media had complained about government's lukewarm attitude towards the implementation of the law, five years since its enactment. Human Rights Commission chairman Med Kaggwa, Head of Public Service John Mitala, National guidance Commissioner Kambarage Kakonge and UPDF Spokesman Lt Col Felix Kulayigye although recognised the right to information, said that nowhere in the world was government 100 per cent open because there were strategic, security and social reasons.

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