Uganda telecom regulator directive to share biometric data with telecom companies is legally void
The Unwanted Witness Uganda, a civil society organization, has condemned the continued direct exposure and sharing of citizens’ bio-data with private telecom service providers as a condition for SIM card replacement.
On Tuesday 27th March 2018, the telecom regulator, Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) issued fresh guidelines making it mandatory for telecoms to obtain Biometric data and facial recognition for any Ugandan re-registering a SIM card.
This has been issued a few weeks after the same regulator banned vending of SIM cards countrywide under the guise of curbing criminality.
“UCC directives are ultimately meant to facilitate self-censorship and easy identification of individuals’ activities online since the majority of Internet users in the country connect via mobile-enabled devices,” says Dorothy Mukasa, the Chief Executive Officer, the Unwanted Witness-Uganda.
She noted that the fact that telecom companies are managing databases outside Uganda, raises concerns of transparency and accountability of such private companies in case of any data breach.
Besides being legally void, sharing biometric data with telecom companies without a data protection law openly facilitates illegal surveillance and threatens citizens’ enjoyment of the right to privacy which is a gateway to the enjoyment of other rights such as freedom of expression and access to information in the digital era.
Article 27 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, which stipulates that “no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.
Unwanted Witness is further concerned about the unlawful sharing of citizens’ data entrusted with National Identification and registration Authority (NIRA) overstepping the law. According to the Registration of Persons Act, 2015, any person other than ministry, government agency or department may access information in the register in accordance with regulations issued by the board after consultation with the minister.
Unwanted Witness thus recommends that UCC should forthwith desist from issuing directives that are unconstitutional and threaten citizens’ enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in chapter four of the 1995 Uganda constitution.
UCC should be held liable for any data breaches that are may occur as a result its uncoordinated directives says, Unwanted Witness.
Information and Communications Committee of parliament fastens the process of considering the Privacy and Data Protection Bill, 2015 which is currently before the committee.