Uganda's Police Force has confirmed that it is working with China's Huawei Technologies to install CCTV cameras equipped with facial recognition capabilities in some of the country's cities. The police have stated that the Artificial Intelligence powered CCTV cameras will help curb violent crime.

However, many people in Uganda and opposition political parties have raised their concerns given that the facial recognition surveillance system is able to identify and log the identities of anyone in a public space and could possibly be used to identify protesters.

β€œThe CCTV project is just a tool to track us, hunt us and persecute us,” said Ingrid Turinawe, Leader in Uganda's Forum for Democratic Change.

A surveillance camera in Kampala. Source: Irish Times/Sally Hayden

Spying on opposition political parties

The claims that Uganda's current government and authorities are spying on opposition political parties, especially with the assistance of Huawei, are not new. On 15 August 2019 The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a story stating that Huawei staff had been assisting governments in Uganda and Zambia to spy on opposition political parties and their key members.

Specifically, in Uganda, the WSJ alleges that Huawei technical staff helped intelligence officers in Uganda crack the encrypted communications of popular musician, and opposition party leader, Bobi Wine. As possible evidence it mentioned that Uganda's police surprisingly arrived at one of Wine's concerts where surprise opposition speakers were scheduled to give speeches. They then arrested Wine and some of his supporters.

Subsequently, Uganda's Police Force issued a statement denying the report.

Upcoming elections in Uganda

Despite the denial by Uganda's police, opposition political parties in Uganda are adamant that the facial recognition cameras are part of a plot to supress their followers leading up to elections in Uganda in 2021.

One of the reasons given is that Uganda's Police Force is under-funded, corrupt and under-resourced to be able to keep up with identifying and following up with criminals identified by Huawei's CCTV system. As such, some opposition party leaders in Uganda believe that the facial recognition surveillance system will be used for political reasons in identifying protestors.

"We would like the public to know that the [Ugandan Police Force] has an existing contract with Huawei to install CCTV cameras country wide as a measure to strengthen law and order,” said Fred Enanga of the Ugandan Police Force in a statement on Tuesday. The cameras are already transforming modern day policing in Uganda, with facial recognition and artificial intelligence as part of policing and security.”

Another issue not addressed by Uganda's police and Huawei is that of privacy. Given that the cameras will operate in public spaces it is not clear how such data will be stored and processed, whether such data will only be the sole property of Uganda's government or whether Huawei, a private Chinese company, will also have access to the data and what it will be used for going forward.

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