Uganda: Weak Cyber Laws Fail to Protect Internet Freedoms and Privacy

Skärmavbild 2016-05-20 kl. 10.58.30In a new report, Civil Rights Defenders and the Ugandan NGO Unwanted Witness provide a joint analysis on cyber laws in Uganda and their failure to protect online freedoms and the right to privacy. The analysis is an assessment of Ugandan cyber laws from a human rights perspective that reflects on the compatibility of the provisions with Uganda’s own 1995 Constitution and International Human Rights Standards.

Freedom of expression is in certain forms criminalised under the laws which contravene international human rights law. Among other things, we witnessed an all curtailment of access to social media under the pretext of national security during the 2016 general elections. At the same time, the more legitimate criminalisation of certain forms of expression, for example terrorism and child pornography, is based on vague definitions and formulations which can result in disproportionate penalties.

The right to privacy is threatened under the laws as various provisions enable both targeted and mass surveillance of individuals’ communications, as well as search and seizure of private mobile electronic gadgets and computers. The level of evidence required for a warrant to be issued is as a rule extremely low and the judicial involvement in the process of issuing warrants is either unclearly defined or lacking totally. The laws lack more long-going guarantees for the protection of the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

Our recommendations include that the problematic provisions of the laws should be modified in order to become more transparent and unambiguous as regards the grounds on which freedom of expression and right to privacy can be limited in the digital environment. Interventions that seek to strengthen adherence to the rule of law by both individual officers and especially security institutions should be prioritised. Independent oversight bodies and procedures over such actions that have the capability of negatively impacting fundamental rights and freedoms should be established. The powers of the ministers as regards the infringements of rights should also be limited in favor of a system of independent and impartial judges or oversight commissions.

Read the full report here: Analysed: Cyber Laws of Uganda



During the last decade several laws that have effect on the Internet freedom have been adopted in Uganda. Some of these laws are pure cyber laws that take exclusively aim on the digital environment, whereas other laws are not exclusively directed on the digital environment but nevertheless contain provisions that have effect on the scope of online freedoms. Several provisions with potential to limit Internet freedoms of citizens can be identified among these laws. The relevant laws are the following:

3.1. The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002
3.2. The National Information Technology Authority, Uganda Act, 2009
3.3. The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010
3.4. The Electronic Signatures Act, 2011
3.5. The Computer Misuse Act, 2011
3.6. The Electronic Transactions Act, 2011
3.7. The Uganda Communications Act, 2013
3.8. The Anti-Pornography Act, 2014

Currently, actions that threaten the enjoyment of online freedoms and rights in Uganda are stemming from the existing cyber legal framework. The Ugandan cyber legislation gives government and its agencies unlimited powers with regard to procuring surveillance equipment and criminalising gadgets (computers) as well as Internet content. Their powers range from illegally ordering Internet service providers to block certain social platforms to signing secret memorandum of understanding among government agencies to share information about Internet users and published content in order to enforce the Ugandan cyber legislation. Harassment of online activists by police has also been reported.

The recent developments proved the urgent need to contiguously analyse the regulation of the Internet in order for citizens to be able to exercise fundamental freedoms, to be empowered and able to change their lives through the Internet. Many citizens view the Internet as one of the remaining independent platforms where a decent and sound debate can take place and where ideas can be shared without political interference. According to the Uganda Communication Commission the number of Internet users is growing steadily. The number of Internet users was estimated to be more than 8,5 million in June 2014.

Categories: News and Reports.
Tags: Freedom of expression, Right to Privacy, Uganda, and Unwanted Witness.
Regions: Uganda.