Electoral processes should be alive to privacy, data protection rights – gov’t urged

Electoral processes should be alive to privacy, data protection rights – gov’t urged
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A few months to the 2026 general election, civil society has urged government to ensure the country’s electoral processes take care of the privacy rights of Ugandans.

“In the run to the 2021 general election, many candidates collected data and  used it to campaign, verify voters but also many of them used the same data to manipulate voters and swing votes.  This needs to change in the forthcoming 2026 general election,” Allan Ssempala, the Head of Legal and Programs at Unwanted Witness said.

He was speaking at the launch of the third Unwanted Witness privacy moot competition at the Islamic University in Uganda, Kampala Campus on Wednesday.

The Unwanted Witness is a civil society organization that advocates for digital rights and privacy.

Speaking on Wednesday, Ssempala said it is high time the electoral laws, not only in Uganda but in the regional address privacy and data protection issues.

Elections are hugely data driven and for you to participate in any election you must provide data. Data inform of biometrics like the thumbprints, the name, age, village and many other forms of data are collected ahead of elections. The question how remains on who accesses this data, how do they use it and who has authority to uses this data.When privacy is not respected, there are chances the data will be manipulated just like we saw in the previous election where we saw candidates making calls and sending us messages asking us to vote them yet we had never provided them with our contacts,” Ssempala said.

Moot competition

According to Ssempala, the third edition of the  Unwanted Witness privacy moot competition will kick off with a pre-moot conference at Daystar University Nairobi Campus on September 12 to set stage for a series of preliminary rounds.

Kenyan universities will face off in Nairobi on September 13 and their Ugandan counterparts  will compete in Kampala on September,16 where the top four universities from each country will advance to the quarterfinals set for Nairobi on September 19.

The finals will take place on September, 20 at Daystar University Nairobi Campus.

He said this year’s competition will run under the theme, "Safeguarding electoral integrity: Upholding voter privacy in democratic processes," to reflect on the pressing need to prioritize voter privacy in democratic systems.

“The integrity of an election is as good as how the data is handled but are political parties aware of data protection? This year’s moot competition will raise key legal issues on whether the utilization of biometric technology in voter registration and authentication infringe on citizens’ right to privacy and how collection and storage of biometric data align with existing data protection laws and international privacy standards,” Ssempala said.

He said the competition will also look at measures put in place to ensure the security and confidentiality of the collected biometric data and whether there are safeguards against potential data breaches and misuse by authorized parties.

According to Brian Kalule, a partner at AF Mpanga Advocates, such competitions help to sensitize the public about their data protection and privacy rights and freedoms.

Data and privacy are an  important part of society.  This moot competition is  therefore one of the first steps to emphasize data protection and privacy,”Kalule said.

According to organisers, the winners of this year’s competition will receive a trophy, a cash prize of $1000 and a fully paid trip to attend the 6th Privacy Sympossium Africa.

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