Uganda’s Sweeping Surveillance State Is Built on National ID Cards

Article by Olivia Solon: “Uganda has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade on biometric tools that document a person’s unique physical characteristics, such as their face, fingerprints and irises, to form the basis of a comprehensive identification system. While the system is central to many of the state’s everyday functions, as Museveni has grown increasingly authoritarian over nearly four decades in power, it has also become a powerful mechanism for surveilling politicians, journalists, human rights advocates and ordinary citizens, according to dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documents obtained and analyzed by Bloomberg and nonprofit investigative newsroom Lighthouse Reports.

It’s a cautionary tale for any country considering establishing a biometric identity system without rigorous checks and balances and input from civil society. Dozens of global south countries have adopted this approach as part of an effort to meet sustainable development goals from the UN, which considers having a legal identity to be a fundamental human right. But, despite billions of dollars of investment, with backing from organizations including the World Bank, those identity systems haven’t always lived up to expectations. In many cases, the key problem is the failure to register large swathes of the population, leading to exclusion from public services. But in other places, like Uganda, inclusion in the system has been weaponized for surveillance purposes.

A year-long investigation by Bloomberg and Lighthouse Reports sheds new light on the ways in which Museveni’s regime has built and deployed this system to target opponents and consolidate power. It shows how the underlying software and data sets are easily accessed by individuals at all levels of law enforcement, despite official claims to the contrary. It also highlights, in some cases for the first time, how senior government and law enforcement officials have used these tools to target individuals deemed to pose a political threat…(More)”.

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