Social media tax in focus

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Uganda government sued over social media tax

The Ugandan government recently introduced a law to tax social media users which went into effect as of July 1 2017.

According to BBC, the taxes are an attempt by the government to help alleviate the country’s debt. Additionally, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, advocated for the tax saying that social media “encouraged gossip.”

The tax means Ugandans will now have to pay 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) a day to use popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

However, angry Ugandans have turned to social media to complain about the new tax.

Five concerned citizens and a technological company; Cyber law Initiative have petitioned the Constitutional Court to order for an annulment of the new social media tax.

The Shs200 daily social media tax took effect yesterday, forcing some Ugandans to resort to Virtual Private Network (VPN), a technology that creates a safe and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the internet.

In the lawsuit, Uganda’s government is accused of breaching the principles of Net neutrality and the petitioners want Uganda’s Constitutional court to overturn the government’s decision to charge the unpopular tax and “declare it as illegal, null and void.”

The petitioners led by a one Daniel Opio have sued the Uganda Communications Commission (U CC) accusing it of unfairly giving an enabling environment for Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to collect this tax since yesterday and the Attorney General (AG) to explain why the government does not offer free internet services to its citizens.

They claim that the tax was “passed with no public participation and hinders freedom of speech and innovation,” in the petition.

Silver Kayondo, one of the men involved in bringing the suit, wrote on Twitter: “In my Affidavit, I contend that the tax offends the principles of NetNeutrality…”

The Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill 2018 will be charged through mobile phone operators via individual SIM cards because Africans mostly access the internet via mobile phones.

While some tech-savvy Ugandans initially installed encrypted virtual private networks (VPN) to avoid the tax, fewer Ugandans have been online since the law went into effect and one described it as “absolute torture.”

Many say the tax will affect their livelihood while others see it as double taxation as a 1% tax is also being applied to mobile money transactions.

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