Uganda's social media tax may be an unenforceable mess, but that doesn't make it harmless (it opens the door to selective enforcement and invites programs of censorship and mass surveillance in the name of fighting "tax evasion") but that's only half of dictator Yoweri Museveni's plan to control the internet.
The other half is a crackdown on anonymous internet access and mobile phone use: the Ugandan government, having frozen new SIM sales for two months, has now allowed carriers to resume selling SIMs, but under a rule that requires new SIMs to be registered with the purchaser's national biometric ID card. The rule also bans the sale of scratch-off top-up cards, requiring all airtime/data credits to be bought by named, affirmatively identified parties.
Couple this with Uganda's terrible human rights record and its history of targeting its political opposition for legal and extra-legal retaliation, and it's a recipe for disaster.
Citing a recent rise in murders and kidnappings, the Ugandan government has also ended a two-month freeze on SIM card sales and ordered telecom companies to register all new mobile SIM cards with the National Biometrics Data Center. It has banned the sale of scratchable recharge cards as well.
Authorities say violent criminals communicate using unregistered SIM cards in order to plan the attacks without being traced.
While the ban on SIM card sales has been lifted, new regulations will now require Ugandans to provide vendors with their national identification cards so that their personal data can be verified on electronic card readers at the time of purchase. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, customers will also be made to use mobile money accounts in order to recharge their SIM cards.
(Image: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious, CC-BY-SA)