If it can happen there… Uganda’s National ID Card system is integral to banking, voting and targeting critics

biometric-machine-at-the-Ugandan-National-Identification Registering fingerprints on a biometric machine at the Ugandan National Identification and Registry Authority office in Kampala on Nov. 10. Photographer: Badru Katumba/Bloomberg

Revelation 13:14 “…by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth…”

Important Takeaways:

  • Nick Opiyo had just ordered lunch in a Kampala restaurant when armed, uniformed security forces swarmed his table, handcuffed him, covered his head with a sack he says smelled of blood, and bundled him into an unmarked van.
  • His laptop, phone, documents and car keys were confiscated and he was interrogated for several days
  • Opiyo is one of Uganda’s top human rights lawyers and believes that he and his team at the legal nonprofit Chapter Four were detained because they had been gathering evidence linking state security forces to extrajudicial killings in the run-up to the 2021 general election.
  • In the course of his work, Opiyo sometimes encountered people who had been tortured and maimed by forces reporting to 79-year-old President Yoweri Museveni. Many had been detained under similar circumstances, and subject to intense physical and digital surveillance.
  • These campaigns were often enabled by Uganda’s pervasive national identification system.
  • 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.
  • The system has 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.

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