Ugandan government misuses state-issued ID cards and biometric authentication system to monitor human rights activists, journalists, etc.

The landlocked country of

Uganda in East Africa is building a biometric authentication tool that records each person's unique physical characteristics, such as face, fingerprints, and irises, to identify them. However, it has been pointed out that the Ugandan government is also using this tool to monitor politicians, journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens.

Uganda: Yoweri Museveni's Critics Targeted Via Biometric ID System - Bloomberg

Uganda established the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) around 2014 and has been issuing ID cards using biometric technology. At the time of writing, it is estimated that about 60% of the population in Uganda is registered, and they are required to present their NIRA-issued ID cards when obtaining SIM cards for mobile phones, making bank transactions, voting in elections, and receiving services at hospitals.

However, there are concerns that the biometric system is being misused for surveillance purposes, including to monitor the activities of human rights activists and journalists, as well as by senior government and law enforcement officials who target individuals they perceive as a political threat.

Nick Opiyo, a prominent Ugandan human rights lawyer, said, 'Government surveillance means that there is almost no confidentiality in my work anymore. In the past, I have been suddenly arrested and unfairly interrogated by government agents.'

'There are great benefits to implementing a biometric ID system,' Opiyo said. 'The only problem is that it is a system that, when implemented by an imperfect or brutal government, can be misused to suppress opponents and critics.'

In Uganda, murders and violent robberies have been occurring one after another, and President

Yoweri Museveni has declared that 'registration in the biometric system will enable authorities to accurately and quickly identify criminals.' Meanwhile, Opiyo says that since the introduction of the biometric system, the definition of crime in Uganda has expanded. Opiyo gives examples of 'criminal acts' such as participating in small political protests and posting on social media that offend politicians.

Bloomberg reported that Uganda's broad laws on 'misuse of social media' and sharing 'hatred information' give authorities broad powers to forcibly silence critics.

In fact, journalist and human rights activist Agyaza Atuhaile reported in 2022 that the Ugandan parliament had spent about $737,000 (about 110 million yen) of tax money to purchase two luxury cars for the speaker of parliament, Anita Amon, and one of her staff members. In response to the report, Ugandans staged a large-scale protest.

The Ugandan government immediately ordered its Criminal Investigation Department to investigate Atuhaile, and authorities are tracking his movements, phone records and social media accounts, despite the lack of a court order or legal basis to do so.

'If anyone in the government or law enforcement wants to use the NIRA database to investigate a particular individual, find out who they were talking to, where their family lives, they can do so without any due process. Cases like Mr. Athuile's are not unique,' Opiyo said.

One Ugandan police officer told Bloomberg that when they want to track down someone who isn't in the police's mugshot database, they get their photo from NIRA and feed it into the country's system of surveillance cameras. If that person appears on one of the network's cameras, an AI system detects it and sends a notification to authorities.

Another officer said he had 'accessed NIRA databases containing photographs, fingerprints, biographical information and other information of individuals on behalf of friends and colleagues without a court order.'

However, NIRA Executive Director Rosemary Kisembo denied that law enforcement agencies have easy access to the NIRA database, saying, 'A court order is absolutely necessary. In my 25-year career, I have never seen a better personal identification system.'

Uganda is developing a system designed to track the real-time location of every vehicle in the country through tracking devices placed on their license plates, a system that has drawn resistance from some government agencies and has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as 'enabling unchecked mass surveillance.'

Uganda is scheduled to hold a presidential election in 2026, and President Museveni, who is in his sixth term at the time of writing, is expected to be re-elected. 'I am concerned that under President Museveni, the surveillance system for citizens will become more sophisticated and hi-tech, and will be stricter than ever,' Opiyo said.

in Note, Posted by log1r_ut