Biometrics and digital ID negatively affect independent journalism in Uganda: study
A study by the African Center for Media Excellence (ACME) demonstrates that the implementation of biometric and digital identity (BDI) programs in Uganda has given room for surveillance and intrusion on journalism and media freedoms in the East African nation.
The study, the results of which were obtained through content analysis, questionnaires, and interviews with journalists and media personalities, found 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 real-time monitoring and communications surveillance.
This, the study notes, makes the practice of independent journalism difficult, with increasing incidents of threats to journalists’ lives “because of the ease with which their personal data gets collected, processed and shared.”
“Several journalists reported receiving threats from anonymous sources regarding their journalism work,” reads a portion of the study’s executive summary.
“Some journalists reported experiencing a hard time accessing sources, especially whistleblowers. This has greatly undermined their ability to investigate and access information, particularly information controlled by government agencies.”
There have been concerns raised about Uganda’s digital ID programs infringing on some human rights. The National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA), the country’s ID issuing authority, currently has a case in court, with the plaintiffs praying the court to determine the impact of the digital ID programs on the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression and related economic, social, and cultural rights.
As part of the recommendations, the study calls for a review of ongoing biometric and digital ID programs in the country in order to ensure that they comply with the principles of personal data protection, especially as it concerns the integrity and confidentiality of personal data.
It also highlights that there is need for journalists and media enterprises to be adequately furnished with the skills, tools and knowledge “to mitigate the effects of surveillance and interception of their personal communication, including the use of encryption and two-factor authentication.”
Civil society actors are also called upon to “support journalists and media houses to scrutinize the legality and transparency of BDI programs to ensure their adherence to data protection principles.”
The researchers say the outcome of the study is “a call to action” for Uganda’s National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) and the Personal Data Protection Office in addressing concerns related to the “ease with which personal data of journalists can be accessed.”
The study is part of a multi-region research by the Uganda-based organization seeking to identify and compare the state of biometrics and digital identity threats, usage, and impact in Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South and Southeast Asia.