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Parliament passes Phone tapping Bill
Publish Date: Jul 15, 2010
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By Joyce Namutebi and Milton Olupot

PARLIAMENT has passed the Bill seeking to authorise the tapping of telephones and other private communication for security purposes.

The Bill will, however, become law after the President assents to it.

The Bill provides for lawful interception and monitoring of certain communication in the course of transmission.

It also allows the monitoring of postal or any other related service or system.

When it comes into force, telecommunication service providers will be required to register SIM cards of their clients.

Security minister Amama Mbabazi last week explained to Parliament that lawful interception is the legally sanctioned official access to private communication and is a well tested method of fighting crime worldwide.

He said international terrorism and organised crime were increasingly being coordinated by advanced telecommunication.

But Parliament rejected a provision in the Bill giving “wide and sweeping” powers to the security minister to issue interception warrants.

The committee on information and communications technology pointed out that such powers would interfere with people’s rights and freedoms.

The legislators approved an amendment by the committee that warrants should be issued by a designated judge and not the minister to avoid conflict of interest.

“We are not going to subject our freedoms to fellow politicians,” Odonga Otto (FDC) said, while Erias Lukwago (DP) added: “We want judicial oversight.”

Michael Mabikke (SDP) said court was a neutral body that could provide checks and balances on the minister and deliver justice.

Mbabazi had earlier rejected the proposal, saying a judge was not the appropriate person to approve such checks given the nature of threats the country is faced with.

He cited Zimbabwe and the UK as countries where warrants are issued by the minister.

The judge can issue a warrant if there is reasonable ground to believe that the offence might result into a threat to life.

A warrant would also be issued if the judge believes that gathering information concerning an actual threat to national security or to any national economic interest is necessary, or if there are grounds to believe that there is a threat to national interest involving the State’s international relations. A warrant shall be valid for only three months.

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