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To counter Police Harassment, Uganda’s Sex Workers feel Phone is vital for their safety

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients

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FILE - Women carry baskets of banana as they walk past a military personnel patrolling in Uganda's capital Kampala, February 19, 2016 Source: Reuters

When Fatia, 25, leaves her home to sell sex in the grungy hotels and hastily parked cars of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, she keeps her hand clenched around her phone.

After three years, her biggest fear is not violent clients or exposure to HIV, but harassment by Kampala’s police.

“The police start charging you. They say it (prostitution) is not allowed in the country,” Fatia, who declined to give her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

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“Some policemen even use you (for sex). They don’t pay you and then still they take you to the station.”

If arrested for prostitution, Fatia knows what to do. Call the emergency number for Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB) – a sex workers’ advocacy organization – and beep once.

A representative from the bureau soon arrives at the station to gently remind the police that harassment or bribery of any citizen, even a sex worker, is illegal.

If that fails, she may invoke the name of one of Fatia’s influential clients to scare the police into releasing her.

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Gentle persuasion generally works.

Ugandan police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi denied systemic police harassment. However, he said instances of misconduct by individual officers was possible.

“The police have no policy of harassing the prostitutes on the streets,” Kaweesi said.

“Those who are victims should report to our professional standards unit … Absolutely nobody will punish them. We will listen to their complaints and follow it up.”

VULNERABLE

In Uganda, sex work is illegal and highly stigmatized, making women like Fatia vulnerable to unlawful arrest, rape, bribery, beating and murder, rights groups say.

The Indigo Trust, a UK-based foundation under The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, gave Lady Mermaid’s Bureau a grant in 2014 to help Ugandan sex workers fight abuse using technology.

It has provided around 1,000 sex workers across Uganda with information-loaded digital memory cards so they can use their phones to learn how to protect themselves against violence, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.

The material is available in multiple languages, and in written and video format, to maximize the number of women who can access it.

“They read them, follow them and do their work safely,” said Oliver Musoke, executive director of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau and a former sex worker.

The cards make it easier to reach larger numbers of women than through face-to-face counseling.

“Some women are not open (to meeting us),” said Musoke, who founded the organization in 2002 to improve sex workers’ access to medical, psychological and legal services and to educate them about sexual health and the law.

“They can read and take the information for themselves.”

Harassment

The criminalization of sex work in the conservative East African nation makes it difficult for those living on its margins to learn about their rights.

Fatia began selling sex hoping to save her earnings for a year and go into business, selling baby clothes.

But she continues to work the streets because she cannot earn enough to escape. Most days she gets one or two clients; some days, none.

“When you use protection, they give you very little money,” she said. “It’s not a good job at all.”

Anyone who engages in prostitution is liable to seven years in jail, according to Uganda’s 1950 Penal Code.

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients.

But it is largely poor women who are targeted.

“Harassment occurs any time because sex work is illegal,” said Daisy Nakato Namakula, a former sex worker who heads the Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), which promotes sex workers’ rights.

WONETHA has received 85 reports of sex workers being arrested and harassed by the police since January, but says many more cases go undocumented.

Officers sometimes threaten to publish sex workers’ faces in the media and refuse to allow those with HIV/AIDS who are arrested to be brought their medication, Namakula said.

Ugandan police spokesman Kaweesi denied these allegations.

“(All) suspects have full rights of access to their relatives, access to medical attention, access to meals,” he said.

Musoke of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau, which has worked with more than 12,000 sex workers across Uganda, believes she is slowly changing Ugandans’ attitudes.

One policeman recently asked for a memory card to learn more about the situation of sex workers in the community, LMB reported.

“I have passed through that life,” Musoke said.

“I know their problems… That’s why I decided to create (Lady Mermaid’s Bureau), to let them know that they are also human.” (VOA)

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Biggest Facial Recognition System in The World To Arrive in India Next Month

The beneficiaries will be Ministry of Home Affairs, NCRB and state police forces

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Face Recognition
Currently, the leading Facial Recognition software are: Amazon Rekognition; Face Recognition and Face Detection by Lambda Labs, Microsoft Face API; Google Cloud Vision and IBM Watson Visual Recognition, among others. Pixabay

With the tender submission date to procure the National Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) just 20 days away, India is closer to install worlds largest facial recognition system to track and nab criminals.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), under Home Ministry, asked for the bids on July 8 which will be closed on November 8. The winner to provide AFRS will be announced on November 8.

“This is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country,” said NCRB in its 172-page document.

The beneficiaries will be Ministry of Home Affairs, NCRB and state police forces.

The benefits will be “a robust system for identifying criminals, missing children /persons, unidentified dead bodies and unknown traced children/persons all over the country; a repository of photographs of criminals in the country; enhanced ability to detect crime patterns and modus operandi across the states and communicate to the state police departments for aiding in crime prevention”.

With the help of the software, the state police personnel can check the suspect with the hotlist of criminals.

Currently, the leading face recognition software are: Amazon Rekognition; Face Recognition and Face Detection by Lambda Labs, Microsoft Face API; Google Cloud Vision and IBM Watson Visual Recognition, among others.

In China, startup Megvii and AI unicorns like SenseTime, CloudWalk and Yitu have made facial recognition commonplace in China.

In April last year, Delhi Police identifed almost 3,000 missing children in just four days during a trial of a facial recognition system.

However, there are concerns that the technology can be misused.

According to Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not specially deal with misuse of this technology.

Facial Recognition
New Facial Recognition System is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country. Pixabay

“The first casualty of the absence of regulatory framework for facial recognition technology is people’s right to privacy,” Duggal told IANS recently.

“In India, there is not even any framework to regulate the storage of facial recognition data,” he added.

Some of the major technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon also agree that there is a need for governments to regulate this technology.

Microsoft and its President Brad Smith have urged governments to enact legislation regarding the technology.

The tech industry needs to step up and do more to address challenges related to regulation, said Smith in his new book titled “Tools and Weapons”.

Given the potential for abuse of the fast advancing facial recognition technology, governments across the world need to start adopting laws to regulate this technology in 2019, Smith said last year.

“Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues,” warned Smith in a blog post.

“The use of facial recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms,” he said in December last year.

Amazon has also defended the face recognition. It offers “Rekognition” — a facial recognition tool that has been used to spot criminals.

Facial Recognition
The use of Facial Recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms. Pixabay

According to NCRB, the Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) to be implemented that would help in automatic identification and verification of persons from digital images, photos, digital
sketches, video frames and video sources by comparison of selected facial features of the image from an already existing image database.

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“A facial recognition system is a great investigation enhancer for identification of: criminals, missing children/persons, unidentified dead bodies and unknown traced children/persons. It can provide investigating officers of the civil police with the required tools, technology, and information,” said NCRB. (IANS)