Friday, April 3, 2009

Women Activists in Uganda Reject Phone Tapping Bill

The proposed telephone tapping bill by the Ugandan authorities will increase domestic violence; women activists in Uganda have warned.

The activists insist that passing the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill in its current form will increase violence against women.

The activists, under the Uganda Women Network (UWONET) statement on Thursday said currently there are cases of violence against women perpetuated by their husbands, who illegally access their spouse’s telephone records from communication service providers.

UWONET officials, who met the Parliamentary Committee on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) considering the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, 2007, on Thursday asked legislators to be sensitive on how women will be protected so as to minimize domestic violence.

The Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, 2007 intends to make provision for the lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or related service system in Uganda. The Bill also seeks to provide for the establishment of a Communications Monitoring Centre in Uganda.

Legislators asked why the women activists were against giving the mandate to sanction communication interception to the Minister of Security whereas it is the practice around the world.

Mr. David Bahati, a parliamentarian said the Bill was focusing on national and economic interests of the country, rather than on individuals.

The UWONET officials said interception of communication would tantamount to invasion of individuals’ privacy guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Constitution.

Rita Aciro of UWONET said, “Whereas it is true that certain restrictions are permissible for public safety and security, it is also true that some of the worst human rights violations have been committed in the pretext of such derogations.

“Therefore it is important that such derogations are strictly crafted and monitored so that they do not serve as a smokescreen for the violation of human rights.”

She added that the Bill needs to be in tandem with other laws including the Communications Act to ensure a uniform practice across all government agencies preying into the privacy of individuals.

UWONET recommended that permission to authorize interception of communication be given to a senior judge to safeguard against abuse of the interception.

Aciro said, “The order should indicate the kind of communication which is to be tapped and when the need for that information ceases to be.”

She said the information gathered should not be used as evidence in court, but rather for following up investigations, and that it should never be made public.

The officials said items in the Bill would be handled by amending other laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act instead of bringing up a new law.

UWONET is an advocacy coalition of 17 national women’s NGOs and institutions and individuals in Uganda.

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