By Najib Mulema

Unwanted Witness, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) has decried the government’s delay in passing the Data Protection and Privacy law.

The Constitution of Uganda, 1995, under article 27 provides for citizens’ right to privacy. Uganda is also party to a number of international instruments that recognize the right, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 12) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 17).

Whereas Article 27 of Uganda’s Constitution provides for citizens’ right to privacy, there is no law to protect an individual’s data privacy.

During a public dialogue on privacy and data protection at Makerere University on Thursday, Ms. Dorothy Mukasa, Unwanted Witness Chief Executive Officer said lack of the law puts the lives of Ugandans in a harmful situation since government departments, as well as private entities like telecom companies, on a regular basis collect individuals’ data without any assurance of data protection or guarantee to ensure its privacy.

“We are witnessing increasing government reliance on private sector actors to retain personal data ‘just in case it is needed for government purposes. This act is particularly concerning because it appears neither necessary nor proportionate,” she said.

However much, data collection is done for security purposes, Ms Mukasa said the process should be carried out in right procedures by ensuring that people’s rights are not infringed upon.

“In Uganda we have no law to protect people’s privacy and data so it’s very easy for bad people to get information about us which in turn would be used against us. It’s true that our data is collected for security purposes but Ugandans’ rights are not taken care of in the due process which puts our lives in grave danger,” she noted.

Ms. Mukasa further called upon government to fast track the process of passing the data protection and privacy bill into law.

Ms. Dorothy Mukasa

“Private entities like telecom companies continue to collect our data even without a law to regulate them. We call upon government to pass the bill since it’s long overdue,” she requested.

The bill seeks to protect the privacy of the individual and personal data by regulating the collection and processing of personal information. It outlines the rights of individuals whose data is collected and the obligations of data collectors and data processors; and it regulates the use or disclosure of personal information.

At the same event, Mr. John Bosco Lubyayi, the Mawokota South Member of Parliament  assured Ugandans that he is going to work tooth and nail to ensure that the bill is passed.

“The bill is in the process and I assure you that am going to take the information I have got from here so that we can make a good law as soon as possible. For those who want to know more about the bill, they can access National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) website and if you can send in any response we shall be very glad,” Mr. Lubyayi, also member on the parliamentary ICT committee said.

Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Sebaggala, a veteran journalist opposed government’s idea of making NITA-U a data protection commission since it’s not independent.

He disclosed that since the authority is a government agency “The regime is so much interested in our data and with NITA-U it will be easy for the state to access our data thus rendering the law vulnerable,”

Mr. Sebaggala also called for an independent commission to enforce the privacy and data protection law.

“Government should provide for an independent data protection commission rather NITA-U. An independent Data Protection Commission will ensure that that personal data processing is free from external or undue influence such as political pressure that might otherwise compromise the right to privacy of the data subject,” he said.

Panelists (Left to right): Dr. Amina Zawedde, Mr. GW Sebaggala, Counsel Silver Kayodo and MP John Bosco Lubyayi

Meanwhile, Unwanted Witness also launched a report on corporate Accountability of telecom companies that was aimed at establishing gaps among the compliance policy disclosures and practices of four telecom companies (MTN, Airtel, Africel and Uganda Telecom) as well as assessing the impact of the gaps on users’ rights to privacy and personal data protection, wilder expression and privacy.