On Motorists’ GPS Tracking: Mr. President, you are about to burn a house to roast a chicken for our dinner!

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Last updated on October 27th, 2021 at 06:21 pm

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Following an attempt to assassinate General Katumba Wamala and the pitiful murder of his daughter, the President decreed that all cars and Boda bodas must have GPS tracking devices. By the time ‘yours truly’ was writing this, a foreign company had been assigned this task.

What next.


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Sincerely, I am not certain, but here is what you should expect, a knock on your door, or several traffic barricades along all the main roads to impose compliance, and before we know it, a certain police officer superintending the system with unmatched precision will know your favorite bar, that mistress you pick from a university hostel, your defense Attorney, favorite clinic, psychiatrist, church, I can keep the list going ‘but for’ your impatience!

Like indirect tax, this is not scaring but let me put it straight this way; Imagine driving from your psychiatrist to your church and later catchup with friends in a hotel around town and all through, police are literally trotting after you, I know it must be numbing, right!

Well, let me get the horror playing. GPS tracking devices are inherently perversive and patently intrusive. For example, if all my friends’ cars have GPS tracking devices and decide to meet forexample for lunch hour prayers, an officer somewhere without any constraint can collect and use the information from our GPS, and with unprecedented exactness will able to determine all people I associate with.

The GPS tracking technology is a cheap and multilayered technology with a different actor at each layer. Every tracking device (receiver) has a cellular radio transmitter supported by a sim card that connects the tracking device to GPS satellite, the receiver calculates and typically displays its location, velocity, altitude and the time by decoding data from the GPS satellite Network.

This data is accessed by a police officer in real time through tablets, phones and other gadgets and it can as well be stored on a computer hard disk or/and government physical and cloud-based data centers for indefinite future reference and it can be freely copied and distributed.

No doubt, this poses privacy issues, for two reasons; one, the government as a data collector and controller may not guarantee control over internet service providers and gadget manufacturers from accessing the same data and subsequently sharing it with other wrong third parties.

Two, the data collected is disproportionate and unnecessary, well against the principle of “data minimality”; GPS tracking technology itself has been declared by courts as pervasive and intrusive.

Consequently, GPS tracking technology in absence of strong administrative and technical safe guards is a threat to information privacy.

Lastly, the specific statute; the Data protection and Privacy Act, 2019, will not offer sufficient safeguard against government’s unnecessary intrusion.

The Act gives public bodies including police unfettered discretion to collect and process personal data which may include this perversive and intrusive personal information related to private trips and movements.

Whereas government has a legitimate interest to protect citizens and their property, it can achieve that objective in a less intrusive way.

Otherwise, indiscriminately subjecting all automobile users to fulltime, insecure and compulsory surveillance is akin to the proverbial burning of a whole house to roast a chicken.

Muhindo Morgan is a Digital Rights Lawyer at Kizza & Mugisha Co. Advocates

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