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Uproar over unsolicited Museveni campaign SMS

President Museveni making a call

President Museveni’s latest attempt to use modern technology to court voters has run into trouble, with the NRM chairman accused of invading phone owners’ privacy.

Since August 4, mobile telephone subscribers have been receiving text messages from SMS empire, the firm contracted to send out messages explaining Museveni’s run for a fifth presidential term.

But a civil rights nongovernmental organisation, the Unwanted Witness (UW), has written specifically to Airtel Uganda protesting the company’s decision to share its subscribers’ personal data with SMS empire, which is sending out the political messages.

“This is the first act that depicts violation of the citizens’ right to privacy. This comes at a time when there are no security guarantees that would ensure protection of their personal information/data ahead of the 2016 general elections,” the NGO’s chief executive officer, Godfrey Twesigye, said in a  statement on Saturday.

Since Museveni is currently a participant in the NRM electoral process, Twesigye argued, it would have been proper for his messages to be limited to NRM members.

“If [NRM] paid for the service, it would have been a wise decision for it to hand over its members’ register and data to [the telecom company] so that it can send messages direct to them rather than the company exposing all their customers` data to a third party,” Twesigye said.

Twesigye also claims that the messages come with an illegal deduction of Shs 220 for any subscriber who requests the telecom company to deactivate the messaging.
This, Twesigye argued, is contrary to the various communication guidelines enforced by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

President Museveni's SMS

PRIVACY

The NGO has also urged UCC to prevail over telecom companies they accuse of abusing Article 27 of the Constitution, as well as the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010.

Article 27 (2) states that; “no person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.”

Between 2012 and 2013, telecom companies were compelled by government to register all their subscribers under Section 15 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act.

“When the [telecom companies] collected the data, they were obliged to keep it secure in a manner that it cannot be accessible by any other person as provided for under Section 15 on restriction on disclosures,” Twesigye said.

He urged UCC to open an investigation and take action against the erring telecom companies. Contacted on Saturday, Godfrey Mutabazi, the UCC executive director, declined to comment.

“I can’t respond now because I have not seen it communication],” Mutabazi said.

In a tweet to this writer on Saturday, Airtel Uganda regretted the inconvenience. The telecom operator also refuted claims that deactivation of the SMS alerts comes at a fee.

“To avoid getting future messages, we kindly request you to use our DND functionality on *196#, select option 8 for stop all. This service is free of charge,” Airtel said in the tweet.

sadabkk@observer.ug

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