Police, presidency push large-scale spying deal
Police and Office of the President are in advanced stages of acquiring hi-tech surveillance software from Israel and Italy to begin large-scale spying on Ugandans, five years after the passage of the Interception of Communications Act, a leaked email by WikiLeaks reveals.
According to documents published this month by WikiLeaks, an international, non-profit, journalistic organisation that publishes secret information, Uganda Police and Office of the President have been in talks with manufacturers of surveillance software to acquire some top-notch equipment.
Once the security agencies lay their hands on the equipment, they would be able to listen in to any conversation from anywhere in the country, the documents suggest.
The leaked documents related to this surveillance deal are largely intriguing email exchanges between the Italian surveillance malware vendor, Hacking Team, and its vendor, Zakiruddin Chowdhury, with firm contacts in Uganda.
From the email exchanges, the Uganda police through its director for ICT Amos Ngabirano, who is described as “highly connected,” the Hacking Team will sell sets of software that include silent installers to local police.
This would enable police to install surveillance applications onto phones and computers without the knowledge of the owner. The software would allow police to easily know what a person is typing on his/her keyboard, among others.
“I am in Uganda now and will have a meeting with the Head of ICT, Uganda Police. Can you please check if this account is open? [For your information], I am here on business and my local contact is highly connected,” Chowdhury wrote in one of the emails.
Chowdhury’s meeting with Ngabirano was to generate a list of surveillance equipment police wants. On May 18, Chowdhury wrote back to the Hacking Team saying he had met with the top police core team who had assured him they would get the budget allocation for the surveillance software valued at Euros 1.18m (Shs 4.2bn).
The figure will however rise to Euros 1.48m (Shs 5.3bn) inclusive of maintenance charges. Emad Shehata, the key account manager at Hacking Team, communicated in another email saying that the company was ready to give a demonstration to the Uganda Police at a military exhibition scheduled for July 27-29, 2015 in South Africa.
But Chowdhury wrote back informing Shehata about his intended trip to Uganda late this month or early next month.
“I am planning another trip to Uganda [in the] last week of July or first week of August. During my last visit, I have initiated a number of LEA projects and my next visit will be to get these into motion. Is your team available for a visit for DEMO during that time? Please let me know so that I can plan accordingly,” Chowdhury wrote.
Shehata, however, insisted on a meeting in South Africa during the military exhibition.
The spy cables also reveal another deal in which the Office of the President is separately engaging an Israeli firm, Nice Systems, to supply similar equipment. Nice Systems appears to be a sister company to Hacking Team.
In an April 22 email, Dotan Peltz, the company’s director of sales and business development, informed Massimiliano Luppi, the key accounts manager at Nice Systems, about a new African opportunity at the Office of the President in Uganda.
“Generally, we are submitting all the paperwork within the coming days. In turn, we will be invited to present the entire solution to the appointed committee,” Peltz wrote.
“We are working to also meet the country’s political leaders during the same session; the process is being sponsored by the topmost level of the country,” Peltz further wrote.
From the emails, Office of the President is interested in Remote Control Systems (RCS) that can tap into all computers and mobile phones in the country. Once sealed, the highly connected government officials who are referred to in one of the emails as agents, would be entitled to a 20 percent kickback.
In a July 21 email, the minister for the Presidency and Kampala, Frank Tumwebaze, denied knowledge of the surveillance software deal with Israel.
“I am not aware about that [deal], it’s you telling me,” Tumwebaze said in the email.
Interviewed separately, Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, also said the force was not involved in any process of acquiring IT surveillance software. He however added that the police had a cybercrime monitoring unit which was equipped to investigate cybercrime.
The Interception of Communications Act allows security agencies to intercept communication of any citizen deemed to be of a security risk after securing a warrant from the High court.
The leaked emails are likely to generate fresh controversy as several opposition politicians have repeatedly accused security agents of tapping phones and hacking into their social media accounts.