Uganda’s Security Minister Defends Phone Tapping Bill

Telecoms

Security minister Amama Mbabazi last week defended the phone tapping Bill, saying it was intended to fight terrorism. All countries, Mbabazi argued, were making similar laws in the interest of national security.

The draft law, called the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill of 2007, provides for the interception and monitoring certain communication in the course of their transmission through telecommunication, postal or any related service or system, Mbabazi explained.

Addressing the information and communication technology committee, Mbabazi said the Bill would also help curb crime. "Instead of hunting criminals through the gun, information can be legally tapped to stop crime," he said.

Under the law, a communications monitoring centre would be established, Mbabazi stated. Although Mbabazi has tabled the Bill before the House for the first reading, it has not yet been debated. The proposed law has been criticised by human rights activists and some MPs. The latter said intercepting mail without the consent of the recipient was tantamount to an abuse of human rights.

Rtd. Maj. Magulumaali Mugumya (Independent) said the Government might misuse the law to unjustifiably detain persons who send or receive electronic mail, radio and mobile telephone messages or postal parcels. Mugumya compared the powers which the Bill grants to the security minister to those which Luwuliza Kirunda, the former Obote II internal affairs minister, used to arrest, detain and deny suspects bail.

He argued that the sale of mobile phone numbers is not well regulated. Under such circumstances, he said, a malicious person can buy phone numbers, call somebody and abandon them yet the recipient may be monitored. He wanted to know how the Government would protect such people. "How will the Government trace the sender and how will it establish whether it was not maliciously sent to implicate innocent recipients?" he asked.

"Suppose in your postal mail box you find gun powder or bullets, how will the Government establish who sent them?" Mugumya went on. Mbabazi said the Government would detain suspected postal articles and examine them as evidence in the case of criminal prosecution.

As the questions increased, committee chairperson Edward Baliddawa stopped the debate, saying the minister had simply introduced the Bill. He said the committee would invite stakeholders to scrutinise and contribute to the Bill after which the minister would be called to explain issues.

The stakeholders include mobile phone service providers, security agencies like the Internal Security Organisation, External Security Organisation and ministries such as that for information and communication technology and defence.

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