RIGHT OF PRIVACY OF DEAD PERSONS

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Lately, pictures of dead people, victims of crimes and gruesome incidents are widely shared by certain members of the press, as well as on social media including WhatsApp, Facebook with little or no self-regulation.

These pictures are usually gruesome and disturbing and most people are often displeased with having to see them strewn all over the internet and the front pages of publications.

We have seen this trend everywhere; the picture of a drowned Syrian child in September 2015 made rounds throughout social media and in publications to more recent events that are closer to home like images that circulated after the assassination of AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi and Major Sulaiman Kiggundu in Masanafu, the Kasese killings, gruesome images from road accidents where Toroma M.P lost his life. There are more examples than we can count.

With images of this kind circulating more and more frequently, the question we now ask is; are the acts of sharing such images unlawful?

In Uganda, the constitution provides for the right to privacy under Article 27. This right also extends to a person’s property. Under Article 41, everyone has a right to access to information as long as this does not interfere with the right to privacy of another person.

A number of international agreements, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 12 provides for the legal protection of a person’s right of privacy.

Under the Computer Misuse Act, there’s a provision that protects the right to privacy for people under Section 25, and also provides for a punishment of up to shs.480,000 or imprisonment for up to 1 year in case of breach. This provision occurs when a person uses electronic communication to try and disturb the right to privacy of another.

One important provision that appears to protect the right to privacy for dead persons can be found under Article 26 of the Access to Information Act. However, this provision is only limited to requests for the disclosure of certain information relating to the deceased person.

All these provisions appear to touch on the person, but what is a person, and can the definition of a person be extended to include a dead person?

Under the Interpretation Act, a person is defined to include natural people like you and me, and artificial persons like companies etc. Since this definition is not very conclusive, we will have to borrow from the Black’s Law Dictionary, which has a definition of person as a human being, a natural person, but also does not go on to clearly state if this does not include human beings with no life in them.

 

So, does the law protect the right of privacy of dead persons?

Well, from scanning the different laws above, it appears like the right to privacy in Ugnada does not extend to dead persons with one of the reasons being that a dead person appears not to be a person for legal purposes.

Quickly comparing to other countries, it can be seen that if such rights are to arise, then they ought to be clearly provided for under the law. In France for example, the law specifically prohibits the publication of pictures of a person, dead or alive without that person’s permission. Back to the situation in Uganda, this would mean the law in Uganda would have to be changed to specifically extend this right to dead persons too.

With the current blatant disregard for the privacy of the dead, shall we sit back and wait until the laws are amended to extend privacy to dead persons? We think not.

Uganda Communications Commission, which is the regulatory body that oversees broadcasting can however set up standards which could include the prohibition of such publications. Nonetheless, much as this might apply to Broadcasters, it might have limited applicability for individuals on Social media.


In hindsight of all this, we would like to remind you that not all that is not unlawful is lawful or right. Publications of certain pictures of victims of crimes, or dead persons could cause much stress and emotional strain especially to their loved ones.


Before you publish

Before you publish or share such any pictures and/or videos on your social media platforms, we urge you to reflect and be guided by these questions that we have borrowed from Rotary International’s “Four-Way Test” of the things we think, say or do:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

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