Government gives ID data to telecoms

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KAMPALA– Government has allowed telecoms access to confidential personal data held by National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) in order to enforce new directives on Sim card registration.

This decision has, however, unsettled some officials in security circles. Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, who represented security organs at an industry meeting called at Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), is reported to have warned that giving personal data to private companies may compromise national security.

The IGP and some government officials, according to sources, expressed “serious fears” that such important data might end up in the wrong hands.

Sunday Monitor understands that the telecom companies first made the request to access to the national ID database as they carry out fresh verification of subscribers and Sim card registration during a meeting with UCC officials on March 28. They argued that such access would ease their compliance with the UCC directives.

The issue was again top of the agenda on Friday (March 31) involving representatives from security organs, NIRA and UCC and the telecoms. The IGP and CID director Grace Akullo attended the meeting at UCC headquarters in Kampala.

Sources told Sunday Monitor that Gen Kayihura and some other government officials were reluctant to have telecoms access the National Database. But after the telecoms put up a spirited fight in explaining their case, the commission agreed that they are given access but with restrictions.

Gen Kayihura is reported to have reminded the telecom operators who wanted more time to implement the directive that Uganda is not the first country to go this route. He also explained that criminals were taking advantage of unregistered Sim cards.
The matter was deferred to an April 4 meeting that will hammer out the details.

At the weekend, UCC boss, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, confirmed the decision but attempted to play down the fears. “They (security agencies) were in agreement and this week there is a meeting to work out the modalities. You cannot be 100 per cent sure without access to this data. It happens in other countries.”
“Database reconciliation/verification is to be done by operators in liaison with NIRA. Discussions on the timeframes in which this will be done will be discussed in the follow-up meeting,” Mr Mutabazi said in a statement issued after the Friday meeting.

Yesterday, police spokesperson AIGP Asan Kasingye reinforced what sources at the meeting said were reservations of security agencies, pouring cold water on Mr Mutabazi’s claims that there was unanimity over personal data sharing.

“What information would they need that is not on the national ID? We must understand that the problem has been with the service providers not registering all Sim cards. What has been happening is that you go to the streets and buy a Sim card and the system of these companies allows you to use their service without registering,” he said.

NIRA spokesperson, Mr Gilbert Kadilo however, said: “We haven’t reached the stage of having third party interfaces but that is something that is going to happen. It is not only the telecoms but banks, NSSF and other organisations [interested in access to the national database].”

“What can happen now, if the telecoms need immediate credible information to do validation, they can have some information like we have already done for the Public Service ministry. At one point we expect that third party sharing will be possible.”

During the meeting, UCC also upheld its ban on street vending of SIM cards despite pleas from telecoms. This ban, according to Mr Mutabazi, will jointly be enforced by police, UCC and the telecom companies.

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