What you need to know about the computer misuse amendment bill 2022

Dear reader, unsolicited information is now illegal and punishable, you have to ask for permission to transfer or use information. Unsolicited can mean unwelcome, unwanted or unsought.

The Computer Misuse Bill introduces new sections into the Computer Misuse Act 2011, which governs communication online. Communication is one very important aspect of society, commonly described as transfer of information achieved by use of various channels like mobile phones, word of mouth, use of computer and currently the internet inform of social media.

Recently, the Ugandan government amended the Computer Misuse Bill that provides rules and regulations when it comes to communication over the internet, especially social media.

During an online conference organised by National Coalition of Human Rights Defender’s, Ivan Bwowe, a Ugandan lawyer and politician argued that the law should be clear to avoid misuse.

“The law should always try to be clear as possible because its vagueness gives possibility for misuse,’’ he said.

Derrick Bazekuketta, a professional Ugandan lawyer warned that this law does not only apply to people living in Uganda but even beyond borders in the diaspora.

Communication has ethics and laws too, although they are often not observed in disguise of freedom of speech, which is one of the reasons given for the amendment of the bill.

Hate speech which is very common on social media is indeed damaging and usually affects victims emotionally who may sometimes end up mentally broken.

In the past years a number of people have been arrested for being unreasonable in speech using the internet over social media channels. Take an example of Dr. Stella Nyanzi who was accused and arrested for insulting the President on social media through a post. According to a submission by CIPESA, Stella Nyanzi was convicted of cyber harassment in regards to section 24 of the Uganda Computer Misuse Act.

Henry Tumukunde and the Bizonto comedy group are among the other people who were arrested on similar allegations.

What is the Computer Misuse Amendment Bill 2022?

Information provided by parliament says that, the Computer Misuse Amendment Bill 2022 that was first introduced by Hon. Muhammad Nsereko on 19th July 2022 was passed on 8th September 2022 by Parliament, and was signed into law by the President on October 13th.

Hon Nsereko defended the new law as a way to protect the privacy of individuals from abuse.

Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and National Guidance; Dr. Aminah Zawedde requested that the bill be withdrawn but her efforts were futile.

Among other things, this law penalises recording of a person’s voice or video without permission, or unauthorised access to their personal information. This has been criticised by human rights activists and journalists as dangerous as it would interfere with journalism and collection of evidence for the prosecution in a case of bribery or crimes committed.

The computer Misuse Act has also triggered a lot of debate among Ugandan citizens, who believe it is an unfair violation of the human right to freedom. Unfortunately, many Ugandans have not taken this Act seriously and yet the country registered the biggest youth population in Africa who are mostly active online.

Here is what you need to know about this Act:

What does it say about sharing unwanted information?

Clause 5 of the bill introduces section 24 (A) and states that (1) a person shall not send to or share with another person unsolicited information through a computer. The definition of what is ‘unsolicited’ or ‘solicited’ is not provided which provides a basis for security agencies to use the law to curtail on free expression. Clause 6 introduces 26 (A) on misleading or malicious information stating (1) a person shall not send, share, or transmit any misleading or malicious information about or relating to any person through a computer.

What does the Act say is the penalty for Cyber Harassment?

Under Section 24 (2) of the Act 2011 prohibits ‘cyber harassment’ and provides that “For purposes of this Section, cyber harassment is the use of a computer for any of the following purposes a) making any request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent and b) threatening to inflict injury or physical harm to the person or property of any person or c) knowingly permits any electronic communications device to be used for any of the purposes mentioned in this Section. 

How will perpetrators be punished?

Some of the penalties are fines and jail terms such as 10 million and 15 years in prison among others. Most of the amendments were already catered for in many other laws.  

The new Computer Misuse bill is very broad and the language used is not easily understood but the most important thing, is to know how to avoid being caught in the misuse.