On the 22nd of April at exactly 6:52pm, an email filtered into the Hacking Team’s email network. The mail, addressed to a man identified as Max was coming from Adam Weinberg, a Vice President at the NICE systems company.
The email, brazenly stated that NICE, a known surveillance software supplier had found a new opportunity for one of the products of the Hacking Team in Uganda. The product would also be disclosed as the Remote Control System, a software system that allows for among many things interception of communication on all platforms and digital surveillance of social media platforms.
The email would be clear that NICE had talked to and was dealing with a Ugandan customer whom they state was the ‘Office of the President’. The deal if completed would cost up to 3 billion Uganda shillings.
Among the many things that the Remote Control System would do according to data fetched off the company’s website is hacking targets on both computers and phones of all types silently.
The package offered under the RCS would allow for the office of the President, if successful with the purchase, to install surveillance apps on any phone undetected and also remotely control and log any action of the device (yes, this includes the photos the camera takes). Powerful as the system is, it can also record every key typed on a device that is being surveilled.
In the continuing line of shocking revelations, the company revealed in subsequent emails that the process for the purchase of the equipment was being handled at ‘the topmost level of the country’ and that they were submitting paperwork already.
The revelations dig further to show that the company had already set its sights on meeting the country’s political leaders in what they term as a ‘boiling political process’.
Separate emails would also show that the same company was in talks to vend the same software to the Uganda police. In subsequent emails, a dealer identified as Zakiruddin Chowdhury informs the Hacking Team that he was due to meet the Head of Uganda Police’s ICT department, Amos Ngabirano.
When he next communicated, Zakiruddin confirmed that he had met with the core leadership of the Uganda Police and that he had explained the soft aware to them and submitted a questionnaire. He, with confidence, relayed that his ‘local contact’ had promised him the necessary budgetary allocation to the purchase of the equipment.
However, Zakiruddin also communicated a fear that has come to be known among many arms dealers and defence contractors, that the Ugandan security would try to go around him and that he needed protection.
The deal, by the time of the writing of this blog, was to be closed at the biggest gathering of military and intelligence officials in South Africa next week on Monday and Wednesday.
The interception of communications act provides for the entire framework within which phone tapping can be done. In its 3rd clause, the act establishes that the security minister will set up a monitoring centre and the mandate to do surveillance lies solely with it. Security agencies appoint members who belong to the centre.
As far as the act goes, that centre is not yet in existence. So any purchases that are being made for and on behalf of the security minister by both the Uganda Police and the Office of the President would come into question.
To do this surveillance, the monitoring centre requires a warrant from a court of law after proving that the person to be surveilled upon is a threat to national security. The laxity of the definition of ‘national security’ has allowed for the abuse of this power in other states where surveillance laws have been revisited.
Even from the inceptionof purchases, it is becoming increasingly clear that the surveillance equipment will end up in a heavily partisan police force and a rather too political office of the president, which, for among many things, has now been known for bullying opposition politicians.
If Indeed we are to have the conversation on surveillance, lets start by respecting the national law on the same.