My scholarly view on vehicle trackers

Christopher Muhawe

The Daily Monitor of July 26 reported that the government has contracted a Russian company- Joint Stock Global Security to install tracking devices on all public and private vehicles, motorcycles, and water vessels in the country.
The government’s move as is, translates into general, timeless, and indiscriminate mass surveillance on its citizens which is an utter violation of the right to privacy. Bulk monitoring and access to individuals’ real-time movements and geographical position without prior authorisation by a competent court or independent body is contrary to both domestic and international privacy law. Contracting a third-party foreign company to undertake such a sensitive matter makes it more deplorable.
The government’s move amounts to mass surveillance and is in contravention of Article 27 of the Constitution which provides for the right to privacy. The government’s move also violates Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and  Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Both international statutes provide in part that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy.
The technical reach of mass surveillance as enabled by the suggested digital devices is so wide and makes such conduct indiscriminately corrosive and at most undermines the essence of the right to privacy.
It is worth stating that I am not indifferent to the crimes and indeed the senseless deaths that innocent citizens have suffered at the hands of criminals. However, indiscriminate mass surveillance without effective and adequate guarantees against arbitrariness and abuse by government agencies is equally dangerous. Whereas the adoption of and use of tracking devices appears to be a solution to the insecurity in the country, there is a greater and higher call for the government to respect its citizens’ privacy.
It has always been incomprehensible and illegal for the government or private individuals to physically stalk people without a court warrant for whichever reason be it security-related or otherwise. How is it  that it is seemingly normal for the government to undertake this massive surveillance mission where “the powers that be” have openly said that they will not only track and analyse who you are, where you go but also whom you are with?
The government may argue that the right to privacy is not absolute which I do acknowledge. However, any limitations to the right to privacy should be authorised by a competent court or legally constituted body which the government is ignoring in this instance. In addition, dispensing with a right to privacy should be done on a case-by-case basis and must comply with provisions, aims, and objectives of the law. Mass surveillance cannot be done on a case-by-case basis.
Another argument that is likely to arise is that, if one has “nothing to hide,” they should have no reason to be opposed to surveillance unless they are afraid of the exposure of their illicit activities. This argument is devoid of the bigger picture of what defines us as humans as it assumes that every human is a potential criminal who should be constantly watched by a higher power.
A question that has always been asked regarding the relationship between security and privacy but with limited answers is that: “what is of greater good between security and privacy?” A simple answer is that the relationship between the two is not an inverse one to the extent that increasing security should mean decreasing the citizens’ privacy.
Advancements in technology should not blind the government to negate the existence of the social contract with Ugandan citizens. In its simplest form, the social contract is an agreement between citizens and their elected government and the same defines rights and duties to each other.
If the government is so inclined to its approach of surveillance, it should not make it so generalised, indiscriminate, and timeless. Indiscriminate mass surveillance should not be arbitrarily meted on Ugandans at the expense of their privacy without prior authorisation from a competent court or an independent authorised body.
Mr Christopher Muhawe is a doctoral candidate (Cybersecurity and Privacy) at the University of Illinois- USA.


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