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  • Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles

  • Civil society rejects Interception of Communications Bill
    Gladman Njanji, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO)
    September 01, 2006

    The civil society rejected the Interception of Communications Bill citing its infringement of fundamental human rights and contravening the Constitution of Zimbabwe section 20. The sector submitted its concerns at a Parliamentary Portfolio on Transport and Communication Committee public hearing held on Wednesday 30 August 2006 at the Parliament Building.

    The Bill gazetted in May 2006, seeks to "establish an interception of communication monitoring centre whose function shall be to monitor and intercept certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related services system".

    This is coming against a background of other repressive laws such as AIPPA, POSA and others which severely restrict democratic space. There is a serious danger of political abuse of the provisions of the Bill to target political opponents of the government, or members of rival factions of the ruling party. Human rights defenders and NGOs also would seem to be at particular risk as they are already regarded in many cases as being enemies of the state.

    The hearing had the civil society and other stakeholders in the media and communications industry agreeing on the need for the Bill to be rejected, withdrawn or seriously amended before it is brought before the parliament for debate. The Bill is not clear on what need to be monitored and the reason for doing so. It contravenes the Constitution of Zimbabwe section 20 which states that:

    "except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference and the freedom from interference with correspondence."

    Internet Service Providers as law enforcers
    The Bill, if allowed to sail through, will force many Internet Service Providers to close down, according to the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association. The cost of buying the software and hardware components needed to facilitate monitoring requires foreign currency that can be used to acquire essential drugs for the health sector or import raw materials to revive the fertilizer manufacturing plants.

    The Bill will also create an environment for passive law enforcement whereby unwilling ordinary people such as service providers will be compulsorily conscripted into law enforcement. The vagueness of some provisions in the Bill were considered as extremely broad in scope such terms as "national security", "national economic interests", or "interests of the country's international relations or obligations".

    The Internet Service Providers will not be able to assure their clients that normal personal and business communications will be free from interception and possible abuse, to the detriment of secure financial transactions in particular. Private and confidential personal information, as well as confidential commercial or financial information may be intercepted that could be abused in many ways. The intrusion of privacy between client and lawyer and between families was sighted as other issues that need to be considered.

    Human rights violations
    The Bill violates the human rights of Zimbabweans and many international Convention such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that:

    "No one should be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to attacks on his integrity or reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interferences or attacks."

    Apparently some section of the Bill which it seeks to bring back were part of the PTC Act, section 19 and 103, which was challenged and debunked in the Supreme Court by the Lawyers Association of Zimbabwe.

    The intrusion of privacy will engender fear among the public, potential investors and business sector. The Bill has to be considered in the national context and its effects on the economic, growth and investor confidence and its retardation of ICT development. It was the majority's view that the Bill is a retrogressive of the President's drive towards information technology development in the country through his donation of computers. The prevailing challenges requires laws that support telecommunication in order to boost investors' confidence, support e-commerce which will promote economic and national development

    Absence of judiciary supervision
    The other frightening development enshrined in the Bill is the shifting of powers from the President to Chief of Defence Intelligence, Director-General of the President's department responsible for national security, Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police or Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority provides for the abuse of power. It also makes no provision for judicial supervision thus taking Zimbabwe backwards. In a democratic society, every person is entitled to a fair hearing by an independent adjudicating tribunal established by law in the determination of the existence or extent of his or her rights and obligations. The Bill provides for judicial intervention after the right has been violated and the loss has occurred. In fact, it is clear that judicial review was meant to be entirely circumvented.

    Conclusion - Monday 4 Septembers 2006 deadline
    The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisation (NANGO) is highly appreciative of the role being played by the Parliamentary Portfolios in creating democratic space within the country. It is the sector's conviction that the Committee will consider all the submissions from the concerned sectors which points to the corrosive ramifications the Bill will have in Zimbabwe if passed into law. There is no worse intrusion and violation of fundamental rights than the monitoring and interception of e-mails, postal letters, and other communications.

    The Bill violates the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, the right to privacy and it contravenes sections of the Zimbabwean Constitution and other international conventions. By the grace of God the Bill must be stopped and civil society sector is urged to submit written submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio on Transport and Communication Committee by Monday 4 September 2006. Let us all play our part and stop the birth of another draconian law whose acidic implication are catastrophic.

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