Go slow on car surveillance chips, experts tell gov’t

Security and information technology experts have raised fears over the forceful and uncontrolled tracking devices to be installed in all public and private vehicles, motorcycles and water vessels in the country.

Security Minister Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, last month announced that the government had decided to attach spy chips in vehicles to ease monitoring the movements and ensure timely response in case of insecurity. 

Muhwezi added that a Russian company Global Systems LLC had been given a 10-year deal through classified procurement to offer the service.

Motor vehicle owners will be expected to pay 20,000 Shillings for the chips annually. 

However  Paul Senoga, an IT expert and founder of  GPS Car Tracking, Grace Matsiko, a security analyst and Ndugu Omongo, the Executive Director of Uganda Professional Drivers Network (UPDN) are sceptical on the approach.

Senoga saids that through his IT business, he has realised that several people in security agencies and private businesses have been offering tracking of gadgets and valuables like cars, without control, exposing the public to hackers and ill-intentioned persons.

“Everyone is a victim of hacking and it is also possible for one to be tracked without his or her knowledge. We have grey hackers who alert systems of institutions and blackheart hackers who take advantage of gaps to make money. We are not sure who will access or land on our data about our movements,” he said.

Senoga insists that all phones in Uganda are being tapped and tracked and adds that people with devices that track phones are not ordinary citizens; they are government security personnel or private individuals with a strong attachment to security agencies.

Ndugu Omongo, the Executive Director of Uganda Professional Drivers Network expresses concern on the forceful approach and adds that although the intention may be good, forcing the policy on the population borders on abuse of human rights and makes it doubtable.

“It is very good and easy to know who drives which car and what they do. Usually, forcing a policy is the worst approach. Forcing a policy on people has an aspect of [violating] human rights. If you are tracking drivers to comply, first have a group you teach about the benefits so that it can be embraced by others,” Omongo said.

Omongo proposes that government should have attached number plates to individual cars just as the case is with Simcards. 

Number plates, according to Omongo, should have unique identifiers for individual cars and such number plates should always be removed when the car is being sold.

Grace Matsiko, on the other hand, thinks the government should have installed tracking chips long ago, arguing that countries like the UK, the US and Dubai are able to track stolen cars from as far as Uganda because they have a tracking system in them and they are not easily altered by criminals.

‘World over, that is a system that is used. If you notice that vehicles that have been stolen from Dubai, UK and the US, are easily tracked even when criminal networks try to manipulate the system. The government will now have fair leverage on managing crimes involving theft and use of motor vehicles,” Matsiko said.

The Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) director Grace Akullo, in her recent annual report, cites examples of cases that have been solved with the help of either phone tracking or spy chips installed in private cars.

 Some of these cases include the theft of Toyota Nadia UAT 502T from Mukono and was tracked in Bwerenga Kakindu village, Katabi Town Council in Wakiso District. The suspects include Aisha Zawedde and Muzafalu Makanga.

Another was a burglary and theft case at the house of one Kasana Phillip where two mobile phones valued at Shs 500,000 and cash amounting to Shs 75,000 was successfully investigated and a suspect Kaliba Sulaiman alias Arafat was arrested alongside accomplice Kakunda Ivan alias Jeff.

Nevertheless, government success in installing spy chips will be determined by next month ruling on a case filed by lawyer Male Mabirizi in the civil division of the High Court challenging the move.

 In his submission, Mabirizi argued that installing tracking devices is illegal and against the right to privacy.

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