Tuesday August 13 2013

UCC has no legal basis to switch off unregistered mobile phones

By Catherine Anite

In your story, “Two million Sim cards could be switched off after August”, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) director for communications and consumer affairs, Mr Fred Otunnu, is reported to have said that the deadline for switch-off will not be extended any further.

First of all, UCC and the telecom companies have no legal basis to set the deadlines for switching off unregistered Sim cards. Their threats are neither backed by law nor any statutory instrument laid before Parliament as required by law. The Sim card registration process is marred with illegalities, irregularities and anomalies, which have dire consequences on subscribers’ rights if not addressed, and UCC as the overseer, has handled the registration process in a lackadaisical manner.

The Regulation of Interception of Communication Act of 2010 under which the process is conducted contains sections that are incompatible with Article 27(2) and 43 (2) (c) of the Constitution of Uganda and undermines fundamental human rights like freedom of expression, right to privacy and access to information.

Basic analysis of the registration process shows that telecom companies are in breach of the Act and The Regulation of Interception of Communication Instruments, 2011. The registration forms provided to subscribers substantially deviate from the legally stipulated form; they are calculated to mislead and they conscript people into signing binding agreements and unsolicited for services. Regulation 7 (3) of the Instruments states: “For avoidance of doubt, every telecommunications service provider shall obtain the details of existing subscribers using Form 3 in the Schedule to these Regulations”, which the telecom companies have not abided by.

The enabling law lacks guarantees on data collection, storage, access, release, disclosure and safety of personal information in custody of the telecom companies. The absence of a data protection law makes the situation worse.

Prior to the ‘marriage’ between Airtel and Warid, the latter’s terms and conditions stated: “If we are ordered to or otherwise required to provide your details and those recorded by your Sim card by the law or any authority with the power to do so, we may comply with any such orders with or without notice to you of the same. We shall not be liable for any losses caused to you by the result of our compliance with these orders.” In this new ‘contractual marriage’ do these terms and conditions apply to the alleged 7.2 million subscribers of Airtel-Warid?

Concerned authorities have been informed of these anomalies but no positive outcome has been achieved yet. It is on this premise that Human Rights Network for Journalists and Legal Brains Trust petitioned court to resolve these issues. Unfortunately, the court process had dragged on since February with no hearing date fixed.

Catherine Anite,
Human Rights Network for
Journalists

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