Got harassed by Ugandan Police for OSM work

Posted by wonderfullyrich on 4 January 2010 in English (English)

I do a full write up on my blog , but the long and short is that by virtue of asking the question "Is this the UN Clinic" I got detained for 5 hours, was checked by US Embassy Officials for outstanding warrants, and got bugger all done yesterday.

Truthfully, we should probably figure out something that gives creditably to volunteers for OSM. Perhaps something that can more easily explain what I'm doing. The biggest challenge was going from the Police Guard's limited knowledge of the internet to an Cloud based mapping system. (Literally it took hours to convey it properly.)

Oy Vey!

Here's the traces:
gps log:
gps log:

Location: Biina, Mutungo, Nakawa, Kampala, Central Region, 24144, Uganda

Comment from wilpin on 4 January 2010 at 18:21

a sobering experience

Comment from JohnSmith on 4 January 2010 at 19:14

Geocachers have been hassled by cops in the past, issues a gimmicky geocaching license, maybe a license to survey issued by OSM-F that has a bit of spit and polish to it which can be laminated to make it look semi-official...

Comment from Ben Last on 5 January 2010 at 00:41

I'd be cautious about using a 'fake' license in some countries; showing something they might consider a forged identification could just get you into deeper trouble.

Comment from Tomash Pilshchik on 5 January 2010 at 20:38

>I'd be cautious about using a 'fake' license in some countries; showing something they might consider a forged identification could just get you into deeper trouble.

So, don't call it a license. It should be a club membership card. Many organizations issue them to their members, volunteers and employees. Meter readers, town tax inspectors, exterminators, door-to-door preachers, practically anyone whose work requires him to walk around where the public can see him has one.

Club or volunteer organization membership cards may read along the lines: "This is to certify that [name] is engaged in [description of activity] as a member of [name of organization]. Signed [name and title of officer]."

Of course, you have to form a club and appoint officers before you can issue ID. This should not be hard to do. Arrange to meet a bunch of other OSM mappers in your area in person, chose a president and a secretary, chose a name such as "Open Street Map of Anytown", and have the secretary write up a list of members and issue them ID cards.

Such a card might read:

This is to certify that John Smith is a member of Open Street Map of Anytown which, in cooperation with, creates digital street maps. These maps are available free-of-charge at

John Doe (Secretary)

Such identification is not likely to be accepted of proof of your name, but it can serve to convince a police officer that the activity you are describing is not something you dreamed up on the spot.

Comment from chillly on 5 January 2010 at 22:01

I have a few home printed cards, like business cards, with OSM info on them. I keep them with my GPS. You can hand one out to anyone who shows interest or wants to know what you're doing.

Comment from wonderfullyrich on 6 January 2010 at 09:40

I'd have to agree with Tomash on the idea of having an club membership with a card or similar. Previously I've been an city ambassador for and they created a web page that helped generate business cards for members to distribute as needed. What Tomash and others suggest I think is a wise suggestion because it lends credence to people in the field while also providing some minor advertising.

In my particular case, the police guards involved would likely have not detained me so long if they had been given a business card. Obviously it would be more legitimate if they could reference what is seen on the card with a website listing of official members. Obviously this isn't exactly possible as 200,000 users is hard to list, and there are privacy concern, however given the continuing issues that OSM volunteers have seen it might be worth organizing some sort of semi-formal guidelines, tracking, and response mechanism for users. Perhaps not globally, but focused on countries and areas where incidents are known to take place. I'll list this on the forum, but I'm curious what people think?

Comment from hkucharek on 9 January 2010 at 17:51

A well done leaflet available in several languages about the works and goals of OSM could be more helpful.

Comment from wonderfullyrich on 10 January 2010 at 11:02

Hkucharek, Do you have or know of such any existing leaflet that might be translated into Luganda?

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