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Ugandan human rights lawyer’s arrest exposes use of national ID for surveillance

By Abigail Opiah

A Ugandan human rights lawyer’s recent arrest highlights the country’s surveillance and government control via the use of the national identification card.

First introduced by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) nearly a decade ago, Uganda’s national ID card was initially touted as a solution to streamline administrative processes and bolster citizen services.

However, Nick Opiyo, one of Uganda’s human rights lawyers, believes that there was an ulterior motive for his December 2020 imprisonment as he became ensnared in this surveillance dragnet, enduring arbitrary detention and harassment for his endeavors to expose state-backed human rights transgressions, a Bloomberg feature uncovers. His plight spotlights the impact of state surveillance on dissent and freedom of expression.

In fact, a 2023 study by the African Center for Media Excellence (ACME) concludes that the implementation of biometric and digital identity (BDI) programs in Uganda has given room for surveillance and intrusion on journalism and media in the region, unveiling that journalists in the country have become targets due to the mass collection of data under the government’s biometric and digital ID programs and its ability to engage in communications surveillance.

The expansion of Uganda’s surveillance apparatus hasn’t gone unnoticed by the global community.

Presently, in the country, possessing a NIRA-issued ID card isn’t just advantageous but essential for accessing fundamental services and participating in societal affairs.

The investigation by Bloomberg and Lighthouse Reports unveils how the Museveni regime has built the system to consolidate power, as underlying software and data sets are easily accessed by individuals at all levels of law enforcement. Rosemary Kisembo, the executive director of NIRA, refuted claims suggesting that law enforcement could readily access the database in comments to Bloomberg.

The National Identification and Registration Authority has rescheduled the mass enrollment and renewal of national identification cards to commence next month in July, originally slated to begin on June 1st.

Source: Biometric Update

Abigail Opiah is a reporter for Biometric Update. Abigail has a masters in Broadcast Journalism from City, University of London and has previous experience in the tech space working for TechRadar and Capacity Media. Find her on LinkedIn.

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