MTN Uganda data centre raided over security

Saturday July 7 2018

An MTN station in Uganda. NMG

An MTN station in Uganda. The telco's data centre in Mutundwe was raided on July 2, 2018 and four of its servers disconnected. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG 

JULIUS BARIGABA
By JULIUS BARIGABA
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Uganda security agencies raided the data centre of telecommunications giant in Kampala in what appears to be an operation to counter alleged security surveillance on behalf of a foreign government, sources say.

The heads of security agencies are evasive about the motive of the operation, only opting to deflect inquires at each other, although some have admitted that indeed the data centre which is manned by Huawei Uganda Ltd, an MTN contractor, was raided.

“Yes there was an operation. You will soon hear a lot around this matter,” said a security source who declined to be named.

In a July 3 letter to the executive director of Uganda Communications Commission, the telecom giant acting chief executive Anthony Katamba reports: “A case of trespass and illegal access to our data centre in Mutundwe by security men alleging to be officers of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).”

Accordingly, MTN reported to police a case of illegal intrusion into the data centre and disconnection of four servers.

The letter says the telecom firm is awaiting “police investigation to determine the nature and motive” of the said ISO officers it claims raided the centre. It goes on to state that the raid took place without a search warrant, a court order or request for information served to the telco.

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Intervention

Mr Katamba, who is also the telecom firm’s company secretary adds that after the incident was verbally reported to the Minister for Security, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and the director-general of the ISO, “possible intervention led to the trespassers and subsequent release of our contractor staff.”

But when contacted, the ISO director-general Col Kaka Bagyenda declined to comment, and referred us to the Minister for Security.

“At the right time the Minister for Security or the government spokesman will brief you about it,” said Col. Bagyenda.

Equally, Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine would not comment, and instead asked us what the ISO director-general had told us, before saying he was in a meeting and hanging up.

Other security sources however, said this could be the start of a crackdown on the telecommunication sector, which, in the wake of the uproar against social media and mobile money tax, President Yoweri Museveni has publicly said to have been fleecing the country.

Other sources have linked the raid to ongoing investigations against senior police officers and other security agents including former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura who have been accused of collaborating with Rwanda to repatriate the southern neighbours dissidents that had sought refuge in Uganda.

Effective July 1 when the 2018/19 financial year started, the government imposed a Ush200 ($0.05) daily tax on the use of social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a one per cent tax on mobile money transactions deposit, transfer and receive funds.

“Telephone companies have been under-declaring calls until recently when we acquired machines to see the telephone calls ourselves,” President Museveni wrote in a statement that was circulated on social media on July 5.

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