HRW: Uganda surveillance system threatens rights to privacy, expression and association News
Angella Birungi, CC By-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
HRW: Uganda surveillance system threatens rights to privacy, expression and association

Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns on Tuesday about a new vehicle tracking system in Uganda. In a statement, the organization said that the system “which allows the government to track the real time location of all vehicles in the country, undermines privacy rights, and creates serious risks to the rights to freedom of association and expression.”

Uganda announced the launch of the Intelligent Transport Monitoring System (ITMS) earlier this month. According to the government, ITMS aims to reduce vehicle theft, improve road safety, and “computerize policing and simple identification of criminals or traffic violators.” The system functions by installing license plates that “incorporat[e] cutting-edge technology” on all vehicles in the county. Existing surveillance cameras and mandated cell phone registration systems function in concert to provide real-time data on vehicle location and owner identification.

HRW claimed ITMS “amounts to unchecked mass surveillance of all vehicles at all times, undermining the right to privacy for millions of Ugandans.” The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda protects a citizen’s right to privacy under Chapter Four, Article 27. The constitution states that “[n]o person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.” HRW claimed privacy issues are further complicated by a Russia-based company that manages the system.

Additionally, HRW claimed the system infringes on the freedom of expression and association. Both are protected under Chapter Four, Article 29 of the constitution. HRW claimed that Ugandan officials previously used surveillance systems to track, arrest and unlawfully detain government critics.

HRW’s criticism of the system came after a motion to halt implementation was dismissed by Uganda’s Court of Appeal in June. The motion, brought by the rule-of-law-focused non-profit Legal Brain Trust, was rejected due to failure to state “irreparable damage” caused by the implementation of the system.

ITMS is part of Uganda’s 9 Point Strategy to end insecurity. Other government-sponsored initiatives include “fingerprinting” of all firearms, banning cyclists from wearing hoodies and creating a national DNA database. Aspects of Uganda’s security measures have been struck down by the Uganda Constitutional Court. In January, the court ruled a section of the country’s Computer Misuse Act unconstitutional.