Privacy vs Security wars

Cases involving abuse of unregistered mobile phones abound. From banking to insurance frauds, social media abuse to family breakdown, the need to fix cyber

Cases involving abuse of unregistered mobile phones abound. From banking to insurance frauds, social media abuse to family breakdown, the need to fix cyber security challenges fueled by unregistered mobile phone usage is urgent.

Safeguarding cybersecurity is a bit like trying to keep an infectious disease at bay. You do all your best, but the disease persists. You must make 100% extermination, else the disease will never go away. Cyber threats pose one of the gravest national dangers to Uganda. The country needs to get much better at protecting herself and the citizens. The recent unsolved high profile murders have put some citizens fear in high mode.

As a way to tighten up cyber security, on the 11th April 2017, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directed all telecommunication services providers operating in Uganda to verify all SIM card subscriber details within seven (7) days. The countdown commenced on the 13th April 2017. It leaves MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, Africell Uganda, Smart Telecom and the struggling K2 Telecom little time to get through a contentious directive. We are sure it will be extended, as the time is too short for such a critical exercise.

The measure comes amidst security concerns perpetuated though unregistered SIM cards that are still on the market. The two successful bomb attacks on the 11th July 2010 at the eve of the World Cup finals between Spain and Netherlands hosted in South Africa were coordinated via phones. The attacks at Kyadondo Rugby Club in Lugogo and the Ethiopian Restaurant in Muyenga, a Kampala suburb are still fresh in the minds of many Ugandans. The attacks left 74 people dead. On the 21st September 2013, a similar incident also happened in Kenya at the West Gate mall. The four-day siege left 67 dead and 175 wounded. Telecommunication was key in coordinating the attack.


There are good reasons to cheer the government’s order to verify mobile phone users in the country.


Uganda can’t afford to experience similar circumstances in future due to short falls in SIM card registration. Having your SIM card verified is in the best interest of national security. Comply, we must and the burden is on the telecoms. MTN Nigeria is reported to be paying US$ 1billion, due to allowing unregistered SIM cards on their network which later were used in a crime.

However, countries that enforce such compliance have clear enforceable Data Privacy Laws and Regulations, and clear strategies for effective implementation, failure of which exposes citizens to privacy risks. How can the State assure the citizenry that private confidential data cannot be used to clamp down on opposition or those with alternative views? How do we avoid mixing politics with security and privacy?

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