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Uganda: Telecoms not protecting callers, Internet users data – report

Kampala. Telecom companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) do not have watertight policies and terms of service to guarantee individual persons’ right to privacy, personal data and freedom of expression as stipulated in the Constitution, a report by Unwanted Witness, has said.

The report titled, “Your Communication and Personal Data is Not Safe Anymore: the Unwanted Witness”, assesses the existing compliance policy disclosures and practices of telecom companies and ISPs and their impact on people’s rights.

In trying to find out whether MTN, Airtel, Africel and UTL respected the rights of callers and Internet users, Unwanted Witness found that they lacked a mechanism to protect people’s data.

“The lack of data protection and privacy that provides principles and guidelines for data curators on how to collect, process and share people’s personal data provides fertile ground for both the State and corporate agencies to undermine people’s right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy without limitation,”

Ms Dorah Mukasa, the Unwanted Witness executive director, said while commenting on the report.

The report observes that the Anti-Terrorism Act (2002), the Interception of Communication Act (2010) and The Uganda Communications Commission Amendment Act 2016, contain infringements on individual freedoms.

According to Principle 13 of the UN’s “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and Guiding Principles, telecom companies and ISPs have a responsibility in promoting and respecting of human rights.

The 24-page report found that the existing legal framework in Uganda is contradictory and does not provide a robust framework to telecom companies to promote and protect users’ rights.

The report assessed the telecom companies and found that only MTN and Airtel had terms and conditions of service for the different services such as data, voice, and mobile money, which are accessible during registration.

“Given the amount of data that telecom companies and ISPs collect and process in the course of their work, it’s is critical that personal information and data is kept confidential and their privacy guaranteed,” the report says.

In the absence of a data protection law, telecom clients are relying on the goodwill and commitments from the companies to protect their privacy.

The report further found that of the companies reviewed, only one telecom company will not monitor, vet, edit or knowingly disclose the contents of any e-mails transmitted by a client using the service without permission from their client.

This company may only disclose such information if required by law, if necessary to enforce terms and conditions, to respond to claims that such content violate or infringe the rights of third parties or to protect the rights or property of Airtel.

The Unwanted Witness report also queried the increased state directives to telecom companies and ISPs over the last 10 years to censor, block or intercept online communication, as well as mobile money transactions.

The report pointed out the April 2011 directive by UCC to ISPs to block access to Facebook and Twitter for 24 hours during Walk-to-Work protests over rising fuel and food prices, which has since been replicated on different occasions.

By Daily Monitor

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