Special Reports

US Groups: Uganda May Spy On Social Media Users

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for sale http://cutteraviation.com/wp-admin/includes/continents-cities.php geneva; font-size: small; line-height: 200%;”>Freedom House said in a report seen by Chimpreports on Thursday that government officials in 2012 issued statements to keep watch over social media platforms.

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“The main threat to Uganda’s internet freedom in 2012 involved the passage of the Uganda Communications Act 2012 in September, which created a new regulatory body for all print, broadcast, and electronic media in Uganda—the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority,” the report reads in part.


Awaiting presidential assent as of mid-2013, the new law vests an undue amount of power in the ICT minister to determine the regulatory body’s membership, budget, and policy guidelines.


Freedom House said the Uganda Communications Act 2012 has been criticized for its lack of independence from the government.


It also noted that SIM card and mobile internet registrations continued through early 2013 amid concerns that the registration requirements infringe on the right to privacy given the lack of a necessary data protection.


The organisation observed that Government harassment for online writing was documented, while suspicions of proactive government surveillance of online communications increased in the past year.


Freedom House claims to be an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world by speaking out “against the main threats to democracy and empowers citizens to exercise their fundamental rights.”


It also analyses the challenges to freedom; advocate for greater political and civil liberties; and support frontline activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change.


Founded in 1941, Freedom House says it was the first American organization to champion the advancement of freedom globally.


The report comes just months after it emerged that Uganda requested Facebook for particulars of a user in Uganda.


It was suspected then that government was interested in identifying Tom Okwalinga, a rabid critic of the ruling establishment.


Media Centre boss, Ofwono Opondo said then that government had a right to extra steps to locate its enemies if it was felt that national security is threatened.


“By time government asks for information about a particular cyber user, it must be following a lead of money laundering, crime against the state such as treason, coordination terrorism activities or other crimes,” said Opondo.


He further elaborated that this is only possible after government has applied for and secured a warrant for interception of communication as provided by law.


Penetration


Freedom House also noted that internet penetration has continued to grow in Uganda and that access is now estimated at 15 percent of the population, with a growing number of Ugandans accessing the internet from their mobile phones.


“Nevertheless, accessibility is still hindered by poor infrastructure, prohibitive costs, and poor quality of service. Moreover, recent measures have exacerbated the rural-urban divide in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as a ban on counterfeit mobile phones and compulsory SIM card registration. Overall, however, freedom to access the internet via computer.


By the end of 2012, there were an estimated five million internet users in the country for a penetration rate of nearly 15 percent, up from 13 percent in 2011 and just 4 percent in 2007, according to the International Telecommunications Union.


The report showed that Internet access via mobile devices is becoming increasingly popular due to the growing availability of cheap mobile internet bundles, with mobile broadband penetration estimated at 7.6 percent at the end of 2012.


While increasing market competition has continued to drive down internet access rates, particularly on mobile phones, Freedom House reported, the cost of internet-enabled devices is still high for the majority of Ugandans who make an average monthly income of $117.


“Prohibitive tax regimes remain in place despite successful moves by Uganda’s neighbors to remove duties on the importation of hardware and software. Most recently in 2013, the government launched an effort to curb the importation of counterfeit mobile phones, which may further limit access to mobile technologies,” the dossier added.


Phones


All inactive counterfeit phones were rendered unusable as of January 31, 2013, while fake phones with preexisting subscriptions were to be disconnected beginning July 1, 2013.


There are no figures to indicate how many users have been and will be affected by this initiative, but it the US body said it is conceivable that the number may be in the millions.


In addition, a 2009 government ban on the importation of used computers remains in place.


“Another impediment to increased internet usage is limited access to electricity. The national electricity distributor reports a customer base of just 458,000, most of whom are located in urban areas and alternative power sources, such as fuel-powered generators and solar energy, are very costly. Furthermore, with only about 15 percent of Ugandans living in urban areas, the divide between rural and urban access to the internet is very high due to low literacy rates, including computer literacy.”

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