Uganda Tightens Control Over Social Media and Internet

In May 2018, Uganda’s parliament passed a law which imposed a levy of 200 shillings ($0.05) per day on many online platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and several others.

The Museveni administration enacted the social media and internet tax on the grounds that the Ugandan people are “lying” on these platforms.

This is just the most recent infringement on privacy rights and freedom of expression in Uganda, as the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) was enacted in 2011. According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda, the frail and vague law aimed to “prevent unlawful access, abuse or misuse of information systems including computers and to make provisions for securing the conduct of electronic transactions in a trust worthy electronic environment.” However, due to its many ambiguous and imprecise provisions, the law “lacks precise and proper procedures” of many basic details, including consent, levels of access, and whether a computer is government or private owned.

One specific example of how the vague and ambiguous CMA seriously threatens individual rights to privacy is the creation of an “investigative officer.” Lacking clear definition, the investigative officer is essentially allowed to access data from any computer for investigative purposes, while having the autonomous discretion to decide whether he or she even needs to apply to a court for access to private information. The officer also has the power to take information by force if the individual is unwilling to present it. This clear breach of privacy and personal rights supports the idea that the law “promotes secrecy rather than open governance.”

Freedom of speech in politically advanced and free countries in the current world order is most often expressed through social media. The right to agree, disagree, protest, and other pillars of freedom of speech and expression are enhanced through free social media outlets. In countries that claim to have democratic governing institutions like Uganda, it is worrisome when strict regulations are placed on media outlets.

By Brandon Beck

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