Today, the 28th day of January 2021, Uganda Law Society joins the rest of the World to mark Data Privacy Day. The theme of this year’s Data Privacy Day is “Own Your Privacy”. However, rather than calling it a celebration of this day, this is more of a recognition of this day. All around us, not only at a Country or regional level, but more so, at a global level, there is an increasing feeling of the lack of control or privacy over our Data.
The Internet has brought us all closer to one another as one neatly tied global village through the use of ICT in our communications through commercial engagements and social media. At the National level, Article 27 (2) of the 1995 Constitution protects a person’s right to privacy over his or her “home, correspondence, communication of other property.” As such, various legislations have been passed to ease and guide communication and use of data. These are inclusive of the Trade Secrets Protection Act of 2009; the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act of 2010; the Cyber Laws of 2011 (The Electronic Signatures Act; The Computer Misuse Act; and the Electronic Transactions Act); and the more recent Data Protection and Privacy Act of 2019.
The Government efforts made towards a full realization of the protection of privacy over data are therefore commendable. Our enjoyment of privacy over data in Uganda is thus still far from achieving the desired effects as we mark the Data Privacy Day. The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act of 2010 requires telecom companies to install surveillance equipment over suspected terrorists and authorizes Government to tap into personal communications for national security concerns; the Data Protection and Privacy Act of 2019 has also been criticized for having broad and vague conditions in the collection of personal data for national security reasons. This Act goes on to give various legitimate grounds over the collection of personal data (see sections 11 and 12, for instance) but there is no explicit stipulation as to how long such data can be held, which provokes the question over the respect of one’s right to be forgotten.
More recently, the election season of January 2021 has reminded us as to how the Ugandan Government can easily disregard the enjoyment of privacy over data, with the stringent controls over social media and the brutal shut down of the Internet for five days on the basis of “security concerns”. All this begs the question as to whether there is a full realization of the right over privacy enshrined in Article 27 of the Constitution.
The right to privacy is a universal right guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As we mark this day, therefore, it is crucial for the Government of Uganda to constantly engage with other stakeholders in addressing challenges related to internet freedoms and the use of personal data. It is also critical to harmonize more convenient measures of addressing abuse of personal data and online freedoms as opposed to generating public distress.
President Uganda Law Society