Government has been challenged to reveal the powers of the cyber crime unit established under the Uganda Police Force.
In reaction to recent press reports indicating that the Police had established a unit to curb the increasing cases of Cyber crimes, activists want the mandate of cyber crime to be fully explained.
But according to the police spokesperson Fred Enanga many people are reporting cases of cyber crimes under which a lot of money is lost. Indeed there are ills that come along with any developments like technology which justifies regulation.
The creation of this unit comes at a time when social media critic Robert Shaka had been arrested and charged with offensive communication. Other circles believe that Robert Shaka is suspected to be behind the serious government criticisms under the Facebook page of Tom Volatire Okwalinga (TVO).
Coincidentally also President Yoweri Museveni recently warned members of the public not to abuse the social media platforms. This was after a hateful audio message ridiculing the Bahima people of western Uganda spread over Whatsapp. In response to the audio, Museveni released a nearly 15 minute video calling for the arrest of those who created the message.
And on the other hand Politicians like former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi have embraced the technology to the extent of using the YouTube channel to launch his presidential bid, without engaging in the troublesome traditional ways of conducting political campaigns.
Whereas Human Rights Activists do not dispute the fact that Internet is abused, they challenge government’s readiness to ensure that the rights to internet is not curtailed in the process of pursuing offenders.
Activitists at the Unwanted witness Uganda a non-government organization that promotes online rights, says the actions are unconstitutional as they intend to limit internet freedoms and free speech.
Answering the why now question, the Acting Executive officer, Unwanted Witness Uganda Godfrey Twesigye notes that this is likely to stifle the right of expression.
Supporting his argument Twesigye says that the move comes at the backdrop when Uganda is preparing for the 2016 general elections, and the need to control all forms of dissenting views classifying it as sectarian attacks.
“The aim of establishing the unit is to crack down on use of social media especially on persons considered using cyberspace to incite hatred and tribalism, which has been noted might cause security risk to the country”-Twesigye
He further explains that in doing this, the government seeks to invoke the Regulation for interception of Communications Act 2010 that seeks to monitor communications by individuals in whatever form.
However the organization has reAched the need for government to urgently pass the Privacy and Data Protection Bill 2014 to safeguard citizens from unnecessary intrusion.
Tweisgye also recommends that government should establish and empower an independent agency to oversee the actions of the cybercrimes unit and any other agencies involved in surveillance.
However the Makerere University Lecturer at the School of Law, Dr Kakungulu Mayambala adds that although the Uganda Police Force has the powers to create any unit to address specific crimes, the public should be interested in its operations. What is important is how this mandate is executed, he said.