President Museveni last week assented to the Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2015, that seeks to criminalise collection or disclosure of one’s information without their consent. To that end, we say this law, which attracts a 10-year jail term or a fine of not less than Shs4.8m for offenders, could never have come at a better time.

To begin with, the 1995 Constitution of Uganda recognises the right to privacy and calls for its protection. Article 27 states that “(1) No person shall be subjected to - (a) unlawful search of the person, home or other property of that person; or (b) unlawful entry by others of the premises of that person. And (2) No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.”

Also, Uganda is signatory to international laws and provisions that promote privacy. Such are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

This means that legally, Uganda several years ago committed to offer an environment in which its citizens’ privacy would be treated with dignity and this was just long overdue.

To protect one’s data means to ensure the right to privacy, respect to confidentiality in cases where information may be shared between a teacher-student, doctor-patient, employer-employee and any other service provider, among others.

Yet over the years, Ugandans have gone through a lot of discomfort in the absence of the law, especially in the face of social media, growth of the Internet and rising criticism of the regime, and convert intelligence gathering by the State.

For instance, in December 2017, Unwanted Witness, an activists group, petitioned the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to ask Parliament to speed up the enactment of privacy and data protection law because citizens’ personal data was being abused.

A 2015 Human Rights Watch report also said government was exploiting the digital era to crack down on human rights defenders. Journalists and many other people have also not been spared as personal information that leaks or is given to third parties are always used in cyber bullying.

Today, it is common to have people’s private information on social media or in the public domain yet perpetrators go unpunished. Bravo to the law.