A private firm owns Uganda’s Internet domain name — co.ug, a code reserved for a country, a glitch that could endanger national security.
This revelation was made at a Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday where MPs pressed ICT minister John Nasasira to explain how a private company, i3c, formerly, known as Computer Frontiers, came to own the country’s domain name.
“We cannot afford to leave our domain in private hands when there are criminals in nearly 200 countries lurking online – plotting large-scale attacks as well as smaller attacks aimed at stealing personal information from unsuspecting citizens’ home computers,” Mr Xavier Kyooma (Ibanda North, NRM) said.
In February 2007, Parliament was stunned to learn that Uganda Telecom had secretly given a communication freeway to Gemtel Ltd, a Sudanese company, to use Uganda’s dialing code (+256).
Parliament asked the government to deal with the matter before it went to court. Mr Patrick Masambu, the former Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) boss, told Parliament then that Mr Nasasira, who Minister for Works and Transport under whose portfolio communication previously was, had introduced UCC to Gemtel seeking technical advice.
Domain names are allocated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a US-based not-for-profit public-benefit corporation dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.
However, Mr Vincent Bagiire (Bunya West, NRM), the ICT Committee chair, told Daily Monitor that on the African continent, the allocation of domains by ICANN is done in conjunction with AFRINIC, a regional registry for Internet number resources serving the African Internet community.
“The .ug domain is a national resource, and the world over, governments manage the country code top level domain name,” Mr Bagiire said. “At the minimum, there should be a Public Private Partnership so that government can be held accountable on matters of cyber security. Otherwise, in case of any problem, we run a risk because sensitive government agencies like Bank of Uganda and Uganda Revenue Authority are using a domain which is controlled by a private operator.”
Mr Saaka said negotiations were in advanced stages for government to reclaim the domain name.
“The thing is that there are people who rushed and obtained the domain name. But we went to Cabinet and a policy on the domain name was approved. We have engaged the company [to relinquish] the top level domain. There is also go.ug which must be purely government,” Mr Saaka said.
As legislators called for an investigation, Mr Saaka said as technology evolved, the company helped the government to run the domain. “They have done a good job, we cannot just disregard them. We can only discuss with them to see how we can own the domain,” he said.
The MPs resolved to contact the registrar of companies to furnish them with the details of the proprietors of i3c and asked the minister to explain the circumstances under which the company took over the domain.
Meanwhile the committee asked the minister to provide specifics on the Shs80 billion UCC is reportedly holding on a fixed deposit account. However, officials from UCC told the committee that the only money on a fixed account is Shs15 billion.
Mr Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West, FDC) and other MPs also criticised the minister for delaying to appoint a new board at UCC. The committee heard that for two years, the corporation has “limped” without a board. The minster indicated that in September, UCC will have a new board.