The government is in the process of purchasing a sophisticated phone-tapping machine at a cost of Shs205b.
The equipment, to be procured by the Security Coordination Office under the President’s office, can record both sides of the phone conversation anywhere and at anytime within the country.
The gadget is an advanced version which has more functions than what the device currently used by the security can do.
The device currently used by the security can only track telephone communications between callers and recipients but cannot record their voices, our sources said, adding that the security agencies have only been using phone call printouts from mobile telecom companies to analyse the phone calling patterns of the people being monitored.
The new machine also has capacity to bust email accounts of suspects who are under surveillance.
According to the 2014/15 Budget paper, the required money to buy the phone-tapping machine will also be used to acquire land and buildings to house the equipment.
“The Office of Security Coordination requires Shs205b to operationalise the provisions of the National Security Act, providing for the lawful interception of communication and acquisition of land and buildings for offices,” the government’s Budget paper states.
Presidential spokesperson Tamale Mirundi described the planned acquisition of the gadget as “a very good development” for the security sector.
“Terrorists are getting sophisticated every day and we need such technologies to counter them,” he said.
“Insecurity is more expensive than this machine. So we have to be ahead of terrorists,” Mr Mirundi added.
In 2011, President Museveni assented to the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2007, which authorised government to tap telephone and other communications for security purposes.
“We need to acquire specialised communication equipment so as to implement provisions of the National Security Act,” the Budget framework paper states.
The law was passed by Parliament in 2010 after stiff resistance from human rights activists who said the law could be abused by framing political opponents in the country or to invade people’s privacy.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said the equipment would help augment efforts to fight terrorism, drug dealers and other criminals.
“If the conversation can easily be monitored, it helps us fight crime,” he said.
According to security sources, the machine is automated and can record phone conversations of the targeted people through automated programming where the data is retrievable even after the communication has ended.
The phone numbers of the targeted people will be fed into the machine with the help of telecom companies for easy detection. Security and intelligence operatives will be able tell the exact location of the caller or receiver.
The recordings can be retrieved from the equipment and presented to court as admissible evidence for prosecution of the suspects.
Telecom companies are obliged, according to the law, to install hardware and software facilities and devices to enable interception of communications and capable of rendering 24-hour monitoring facilities.