COVID– 19, Internet and the Law: The Case For Ugandan Companies

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11th march, 2020 declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.

It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

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The Internet Offers Not Only The Best But Also The Only Available Options 

Heads of State, and Government of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) via a video conference at the Extra Ordinary Summit on Coronavirus disease equally declared it a pandemic on 31st March, 2020.

And called upon the international community to adopt a globally coordinated and coherent approach to tackle this public health crisis and encourage the private sector to support regional response to COVID – 19.

States have adopted more conservative approach in protecting their populations against the dangerous virus.

Uganda, has enacted The public Health (Prohibition of Entry into Uganda) Order, 2020 which prohibits entry into Uganda by any person, article or thing at or through any of the border posts with effect from Monday, 23rd March, 2020.

The President of Uganda on 30th March ordered a lock down in the entire country for fourteen days, leaving a few essential services open for fourteen days.

The lock down affects trans-boundary transactions and inter– commercial transactions with adverse effects on the national economy and normal movement of persons.

Whereas movement of people is adversely affected, the internet offers not only the best but also the only available options to transact commercial business, office business and keep life normal.

Internet Penetration 

Uganda, already has a position in the Internet User rankings in Africa. The most recent survey done by Internet World Stats reveals that Uganda ranks 15th in Internet usage across Africa with Kenya leading the pack.

The growth of internet usage despite the current tax on social media is visible.

In 2000, internet penetration percentage was at 0.1 % and in 2016, the percentage was 31.1 % that is 11,924,927 million people out of 38,319,241 people in Uganda, with Kenya having 77.8% penetration.

The United Nations has already noted the importance of the internet on national economies.

Legal Framework

Resolution 32/13 endorsed on 18th July, 2016 on ‘’The promotion, protection and enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet’’ noted that the internet is a driving force that can accelerate progress towards development in different forms.

And it affirms the importance of applying a rights-based approach in providing and expanding access to the internet, requesting states to make efforts to bridge the many forms of the digital divide.

The Resolution, notes that the internet plays an important role in facilitating a wide range of rights, notably, the right to education, which plays a decisive role in development and calls on states to promote digital literacy and facilitate access to information on the internet.

In particular, the resolution calls on, all states to bridge the gender divide and enhance the use of enabling technology to promote the empowerment of all women and girls and also to take appropriate measures to promote the design, development, production and distribution of information and communications technology and systems that are accessible to persons with disabilities.

The African Commission meeting at its 59th Ordinary session held in Banjul, Islamic Republic of The Gambia from 21st October to 04th November 2016 similarly called on state parties to respect and take legislative and other measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to freedom of information and expression through access to Internet services.

Uganda has developed enough legislation to enable electronic transactions in Uganda via the internet such as The Electronic Transactions Act which makes electronic evidence admissible in courts.

And the Electronic Signatures Act which makes provision for the use of electronic signatures in order to ensure that transactions are carried out in a secure environment, establishes key public infrastructure for authenticity and security of documents and recognizes the different signature creating technologies.

With the enactment of The Judicature (Visual-Audio Link) Rules, 2016 makes it more affordable to use technology to conduct proceedings in courts of law.

These aim to provide for the taking of evidence in court by visual-audio link and to make it easier for witnesses to give evidence without physically appearing in court.

This enables parties, advocates and accused persons to address court without physically appearing, which facilitates speedy trials, provides for relief from the anxiety of giving evidence in open court, reduces the cost of litigation; and promotes witness protection.

It should be noted that evidence received herein is not electronic evidence per se but electronic evidence can also be tendered through a visual – Audio link.

The Constitution ( Integration of ICT into the Adjudication process for courts of Judicature)(Practice Directions), 2019  provides for electronic service of court documents, electronic versions of documents including pleadings, emphasizing use of technology.

The act of using ICT doesn’t constitute electronic evidence but proof of its use in court constitutes electronic evidence. All these operate with the aid of the internet.

Ugandan commercial statutes already recognize transactions over the internet as binding.

The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 2018 under Section 5, provides that a contract for sale of goods and supply of services may be in inform of a data message.

Section 1 of the same law, defines a data message to mean data generated, sent, received or stored by computer means and includes voice, where voice is used in an automated transaction or a stored record.

Under Section 10 of the Contracts Act, a contract may be in form of a data message.

Get Creative And Learn From The COVID-19 Crisis

With COVID-19 and its effects of social distancing and prohibited movement of persons, companies must adopt digital solutions to keep in touch with customers so that they’re able to generate revenue.

Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian Academic and Author on business management, has noted that limitations stimulate creativity.

Internet has become part of human nature and solutions must be sought from it.

Justice Korir of the Kenya High Court, in the case of Law Society of Kenya versus Hillary Mutyambai and others CHRP 120 of 2020, recently directly parties to provide their email addresses to enable the Deputy Registrar of the Constitutional and Human Rights Division to arrange the matter to be heard using zoom application.

An important 2020 lesson is that every company must be digital.

Procrastination, will delay change and stop companies from growing.

COVID -19, presents better opportunity companies to go digital with assured positive reception.

Companies, must address themselves to  the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 that protects the privacy of individuals in such online transactions.

The time is now, every company must go digital.


 

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