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Proposed Amendments to Computer Act Duplicating Existing Laws- Activists

The activists also argue that the proposed amendments duplicate other laws like the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act. The activists also observe that the proposed amendments duplicate other laws like the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act.
Lawyers and Human Rights activists appearing before Parliament's ICT committee. Photo by Olive Nakatudde

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A section of human rights activists have asked Parliament’s committee on Information, Communication and Technology to reject the proposed amendments to the Computer Misuse Act, and instead, push for enforcement of the existing laws.

The activists also argue that the proposed amendments duplicate other laws like the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act.

MPs sitting on the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) committee are currently considering proposed amendments to the Act tabled before Parliament by Kampala Central MP, Muhammad Nsereko.

In the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, 2022, Nsereko seeks to prohibit sharing of any information relating to a child without authorization from a parent or guardian, prohibit sending or sharing information that promotes hate speech, sharing false, malicious and unsolicited information.

He proposed that those found guilty and convicted be barred from holding public office for 10 years. Nsereko seeks to amend Section 12 of the Computer Misuse Act to criminalize hacking of another person’s electronic device and publishing information obtained therefrom.

He proposed that a person who, without authorization accesses another person’s data or information, voice or video records another person and shares information that relates to another person commits an offence.

Nsereko proposed a 15 million Shillings fine or 7 years’ imprisonment or both. The same punishment is proposed for sharing unsolicited, malicious and misleading information and a person who shares information through a computer relating to a child without authorization from a parent or guardian.

The Bill also proposes an offence for hate speech saying that a person shall not write, send or share the information which is likely to ridicule, degrade or demean another person, tribe, religion or gender.

However, officials from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) say that the proposed Bill greatly undermines the enjoyment of digital rights and freedoms including freedom of expression and access to information.

“The Bill prohibits the sending or sharing of unsolicited information through a computer. Unfortunately, the definitions of ‘unsolicited’ and ‘solicited’ are not provided. This presents uncertainties as to the scope of and meaning of unsolicited information,” said Edrine Wanyama the CIPESA legal officer.

He told MPs that without a clear definition of the two, it can unduly limit information access and sharing and free expression.

‘Sine all information coming into possession of an individual or entity could potentially be categorized as solicited or unsolicited, clause 5 could be misused and abused by the government and its agencies to curtail sharing and dissemination of information, which would limit freedom of expression and access to information,” Wanyama explained.

He recommended that the clause on unsolicited information is deleted in the Bill or in the alternative, a clear definition and scope of the terms ‘unsolicited’ and ‘solicited’ should be provided.

Wanyama also notes that the provision on sharing malicious or misleading information undermines freedom of expression and access to information.

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The MPs also learnt that the proposals in the Bill duplicate the Interception of Communication Act and the Data Protection and Privacy Act.

“They could potentially cause conflicts in enforcement if enacted. The information and date which the Bill related to is already protected by the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010 which prohibits the unlawful interception of communications,” Wanyama observed.

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Lillian Nalwoga, the Programmes Manager at CIPESA says that if Parliament is to make amendments to the Computer Misuse Act, it needs to comprehensively review of the current laws and ascertain whether they adequately provide solutions to the challenges or not.

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Michael Aboneka, a lawyer with Thomas and Michael Advocates, also observed that the proposed amendments duplicate already existing laws.

He said that laws like the Constitution, the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019, the Children Act, Penal Code Act, Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act effectively cover what is proposed in the Bill.

He said that government needs to focus on implementing these existing laws and also repeal laws that do not conform to human rights standards.

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Aboneka queried the proposed provision on hate speech questioning who will determine the nature and magnitude of hate speech and what would happen if the accused person is not in possession of a computer at the time information was shared.

The lawyer says that the proposed law does not cure anything.            

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