Government has denied procuring a surveillance kit from a UK firm to spy on opposition.
According to British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], a UK-based firm sold surveillance technology to Uganda which has been used to crush and potentially blackmail opponents of the president.
BBC Newsnight quotes an internal report which says the technology has also been used in other African countries and in Syria.
The firm, Gamma Group, says it does not assist or encourage any government agency in the misuse of its products.
The BBC has been working with Privacy International, who were leaked a top secret memo and other documents purportedly detailing the use of the technology for the use of internal repression in Uganda.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is generally regarded as an ally of the UK, BBC reported.
One top secret document was prepared by a senior intelligence official for President Museveni and describes a surveillance programme codenamed Fungua Macho, which involved more than 70 intelligence analysts.
Dated January 2012, the document says the Finfisher technology bought from Gamma Group International has been used “to spy on the enemy, collect data, intrude enemy systems, intercept enemy communication and also manipulate transmissions.
“It can covertly be deployed in buildings, vehicles, computers, mobile phones, cameras and any other equipment deemed worthy for information extraction or surveillance.”
The document says the operation has already gathered “hordes of information revealing secret plans” of the main Ugandan opposition party, the FDC.
It says the aim of the operation is to “to manage and control the media houses and opposition politicians…. which… may involve blackmailing them.”
“I am glad to inform you that since we started we have managed to collect substantial amount of information from different targets… people deemed dangerous to state security like government officials and opposition politicians are being surveilled.”
The document says the technology “is being used by countries like Nigeria, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Senegal and most recently Kenya. It is also the main tool that has been employed by the Syrian government; although it came a little too late when the demos were out of hand but has to a greater extent managed to contain the situation.”
Deputy government spokesperson, Col Shaban Bantariza, told press at Uganda Media Centre on Friday that the contents of the above named reports by Privacy International and their collaborators, the BBC “is outright fallacious, misleading, with hidden intent to malign the Ugandan government and its security agencies”.
Bantariza says the operation “FUNGA MACHO” is unknown to have been undertaken before, during or after the time period especially during the 2011 walk-to-work riots as the report claims.
“BBC is said to have worked in collaboration with this NGO, to publish a false and malicious report,” Bantariza lashed out.
Bantariza said the political opposition in Uganda is not all an enemy, perceived or real to government.
“And hence government cannot go out to procure surveillance equipment to servile their political activities.”
Bantariza said the Ugandan state has a constitutional mandate and responsibility to defend and protect the citizens.
“And any security activity can only be directed at that role and purpose without prejudice.”
Bantariza said if there are any contradictions between political actors and custodians of law and order, there are both political and legal mechanisms to address these, without requiring any sinister actions.
He said any Ugandan however who may get into temptation to engage in any criminal activities can be dealt with available and appropriate means within the law.
BBC further reported that the Ugandan government, which received £1bn in UK aid and investment last year, did not respond to follow up questions about the surveillance programme.
However, in a letter to Privacy International, government denied the operation existed.
“President Museveni does not use criminal blackmail as a political tool to win over or deal with opponents… it does not add any value as (the) government enjoys broad political legitimacy and support.”
Besigye spied on
Gamma Group International is a British-based company with affiliates in a number of countries, including Germany.
It says it sells surveillance technology to governments for counterterrorism purposes.
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye is among those who may have been spied on using this high-tech surveillance.
In a statement, Gamma said it was unable to give details of any alleged orders.
“Gamma undertakes an absolute obligation of confidentiality to the governments which purchase its products and systems.
“Gamma does not assist or encourage any government agency in the misuse of Gamma’s products and systems.
“These products and systems have been effective in many countries in the course of police and other government agency action against terrorist threats, drug cartels, other major organised crime, and paedophile rings.”
Gamma Group said it has a human rights policy, but declined to share a copy of it.