By Juliet Nanfuka |
The Uganda Internet Governance Forum (UIGF) has since 2006 been a platform for deliberation on internet governance concerns in the country. Debates at the annual forum have progressed from prioritising access and infrastructure to global trends in the internet governance agenda such as the need for increased advocacy of online freedoms, protection of vulnerable users – including children and women, intermediary liability, and net neutrality.
In 2006, when the UIGF was initiated, the government was embarking on the roll-out of the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure and e-Government Infrastructure Project (NBI/EGI) to connect all major towns, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to the national optic cable grid. At the time, the Uganda Communications Commission reported just 175,568 active mobile internet users in the country.
As more Ugandan users came online, vulnerability to cyber crime and fraud were recognised,, which led to the government to enact the cyber security laws (Electronic Transactions Act, 2011, e-signatures Act 2011 and Computer Misuse Act, 2011) and the establishment of the Uganda Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) in 2012.
By December 2014, the number of internet users in the country had grown to 8.5 million. Meanwhile, the NBI/EGI connected 27 ministries and departments, and 22 district headquarters through 1,400Kms of fibre optic cable. The infrastructure supports the integrated financial management system, video conferencing and secure messaging and collaboration platforms, among others.
To further address emerging internet governance issues, the government last December published the draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill 2014 and solicited stakeholder comments through the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (NITA-U).
Also in 2014, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)’s global cyber security index listed Uganda as second in Africa after Mauritius in adopting and driving polices that support cyber security.
The 8th national Internet Governance Forum hosted in Kampala in December 2014 drew participants from civil society, academia, private sector and government. The event also served as the launch of the Global Information Society (GIS) Watch 2014 Uganda report.
Issues discussed were internet affordability and increased access, the management of the .ug country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), cyber security management, the transition stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the status of Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) transition to IPv6 in Uganda.
During the panel on “Cyber security versus data protection and privacy”, Jimmy Haguma, Acting Commissioner/Electronic Counter Measures of the Uganda Police Force (UPF), said the police have to protect the interests of national security as well as of users online from fraudulent activity.
According to the Uganda Police Annual Crime and Road Safety Report of 2013, a total of 45 cyber crime cases were reported and investigated, in which about 18.1 billion Uganda Shillings (UGX) equivalent to USD 579,000 – was lost through hacking victims’ mails, among other means. Between August and November 2014, mobile money fraud resulted in losses of UGX 207 million (USD 80,000) while, ATM fraud led to losses totaling over UGX 1.2 billion (USD 460,000)’.
Participants responded that while security is a legitimate concern, it should not be used to curtail human rights. They highlighted contradictory clauses in the cyber laws and other legislation that infringe upon privacy, as well as citizens right to freedom of expression online, particularly by groups such as the media and human rights activists.
Specific emphasis was placed on the issue of violence against women online and a call was made to adopt and implement gender-friendly ICT laws. Participants noted that women have fallen victim to misuse of the very laws that are meant to protect them, as was witnessed in the case of local artist Desire Luzinda whose nude images were shared online and as a result was faced with potential charges under the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014.
Intermediary liability and net neutrality were also fronted as significant issues to address given their impact on local content, free speech, and online economic opportunities.
Meanwhile, participants were urged by panelists to contribute to local and global internet governance discussions, so as to maintain multi-stakeholderism on the matter and to promote the African stake in the debates.
As the UIGF continues to mature into a platform for deliberating on internet development in the country, areas that need more attention include: development of relevant local online content, child online protection, increased stakeholder engagement in the development of progressive laws and policies as well as their speedy enactment.
UIGF 2014 was hosted by Internet Society (ISOC) Uganda in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) under the theme ‘Strengthening Uganda’s Critical Internet Resources’. As part of its work in research, advocacy, and awareness raising on how internet governance impacts on development and governance, CIPESA is currently implementing the OpenNet Africa project, which monitors and promotes internet freedoms primarily in East Africa.