Free Internet: Beneficial for the Masses or Spying Tool Disguise?

Internet balloon

The Uganda Internal Security Organization (ISO) has disapproved the decision by government to allow Google to fly Internet balloons over Uganda, citing security concerns.

Loon LLC, the Alphabet subsidiary that uses stratospheric balloons to provide mobile Internet to remote regions, on Monday, December 9, signed a letter of agreement with the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCCA) to fly over Ugandan skies.

But ISO Director Col. Frank Kaka Bagyenda has vowed to block the deal, saying they have received information that it is a means by which foreign countries want to spy on Uganda and destabilize it.

President Museveni endorsed the project before directing responsible government agencies including Ministry of ICT, Ministry of Transport and Works, and the army leadership to ensure that Loon commences operations in Uganda.

But Col. Kaka said the President has been misadvised, and that they will seek audience with him to block the deal.

The ISO Director cited an incident in Egypt where such an Internet deal was approved before it led to what has since become known as the Arab spring that ended the reign on President Hosni Mubarak. After three decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt, thousands of people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to express solidarity and chart a new way forward. The government halted telecommunications companies in the region to cut off access to the Internet, interfering with Egyptians’ right to seek, receive, and impart information. The Internet shutdown lasted for five days, but stories point to thousands mobilizing via free Internet.

This does not bode well for tourism and the safety of the country for travelers.

However, the Defense and army spokesman, Brig. Richard Karemire, said the Internet deal was approved by the Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. David Muhoozi, and they see nothing wrong.

But Col. Kaka insisted not all security agencies were consulted over the matter, something that would compromise the country’s security.

However, UCCA Director General, David Kakuba, said prior to the signing of the agreement, Loon LCC has been operating trials over various countries in Africa including Uganda over the last few years. He said all the trials were fortunately successful culminating in the signing of the letter of agreement with Uganda to facilitate regular overflights of Loon balloons to Kenya.

US Ambassador to Uganda, H.E. Deborah Malac, and Uganda’s Minister of State for Works and Transport, Aggrey Bagiire, (since transferred to the Agriculture Ministry) witnessed the signing of the letter of the agreement at the Serena Hotel in Kampala whose signatories were Dr. Kakuba and Dr. Anna Prouse, the Head of Government Relations at Loon LLC.