Uganda's computer misuse bill
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News around Africa - October 14, 2022

What’s Uganda’s Controversial Computer Misuse Bill all About?

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has signed the computer misuse bill presented by the parliament of Uganda, further drowning the country into a regressive tech policy. The bill was assented to alongside three other bills: the Physical Planners’ Registration Act; the Kampala Capital City Act; and the Mining and Minerals Act. 

The news, which the Presidential Press Unit announced (PPU), added the East African country to the list of countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, with controversial tech and digital space bills.

Here is what you should know about the bill.

What the bill is all about

Uganda’s computer misuse bill was enacted in 2011 to improve safety and security in the digital world, particularly by preventing unauthorised access, abuse of, or misuse of information, including computers, and protecting the execution of electronic transactions.

Despite the existence of a bill that regresses the country technology-wise, Muhammed Nsereko, a member of the Ugandan parliament, proposed an amendment to the existing computer misuse bill. From his perspective, he said, the current act does not cover information sharing across social media.

After collective agreement of the Ugandan parliament and the signing of the Law by the president, the objectives of the new bill are “…to enhance the provisions on unauthorised access to information or data; to prohibit the sharing of any information relating to a child without authorisation from a parent or guardian; to prohibit the sending or sharing of information that promotes hate speech; to provide for the prohibition of sending or sharing false, malicious and unsolicited information.”

Despite the similarities between the two bills, new clauses were added. Clause 2 states, “Any person who, without authorisation, (a) accesses or intercepts any program or another person’s data or information; (b) voice or video records another person; or (c) shares any information about or that relates to another person, commits an offence.”

The bill also addresses the illegal sharing or publishing of anything likely to mock, degrade, or disparage another person, tribe, religion, or gender. Anyone caught in the act will be fined a specific amount, jail term, or both.

The pros of the bill

The bill can be said to be a step in the right place with the increase in cybercrime, as the continent is fully digitalised. However, with this comes a surge in cyber vulnerabilities, especially in Africa.

From a report, many countries have seen a rise in digital threats and malicious cyber activities. With this threat to African countries, the bill might naturally promote national cohesion and discourage cybercrime. In turn, it will reduce cyber activities in the country.

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The cons of the bill

Despite the ability to reduce cyber activities in the country, Ugandans believe it serves as a tool the government uses to silence the people. Invariably, their freedom of speech and expression through digital media is being trampled on.

This makes the concept of freedom of speech in Uganda a controversial one. While there is a provision for rights, limited ones are available to the people. This comes with civil and penal sanctions for those that violate the bill.

One good example is the case of Stella Nyanzi. She was arrested and jailed numerous times using her creative work (poems) to call out the government and President Yoweri Museveni and address some things in society.

Also is the renowned novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. He was detained and tortured after criticising the president through a tweet.

The controversy surrounding the bill

The assenting to the computer misuse bill has generated different reactions from people. One such is the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). According to the group, it’s a “blow to online civil liberties.” The group also believes the bill addresses an invalid need that the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010 and Data Protection and Privacy are already filling.

Also, Uganda’s ministry of information communication technology (ICT) is against the computer misuse bill. Due to this, Aminah Zawedde, permanent secretary for the ministry, called for the bill’s withdrawal in August. Despite the ministry’s attempt to stop the bill, the parliament denied the request and passed the bill.

In an interview, Robert Ssempala, the executive director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda, said, “It is a huge blow to freedom of expression and journalists’ rights. It imposes criminal sanctions against many Ugandans for expressing themselves. Many charges will loom around Ugandans’ necks and will make it difficult for anyone to express dissent or hold their leaders to account.”

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