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  • Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles

  • ZLHR Submission on Interception of Communications Bill 2006
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    September 04, 2006

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    Submissions to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communication

    International law has been moving towards an established conception of what are termed communication rights. Especially protected in such rights are the universally accepted rights to privacy and freedom of expression, together with what are termed inclusiveness guarantees, which involve access to information and knowledge, the right to education, the right to protection of the cultural life of communities, and the equal sharing of science and technology, which promote cultural, informational and linguistic diversity. In the respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of all these universally acknowledged rights, basic means of communication, such as telephones, broadcasting and internet, are integral.

    Communication rights are thus crucial to democracy and political participation as well as cultural identity and development, as based on the principles of freedom, inclusiveness, diversity and participation. They are necessary for human beings to live in freedom, justice, peace and dignity. Further participation in political processes by having one’s views taken into account is an integral part of equality, which is at the core of fundamental constitutional rights.

    The worldwide emerging practice of passing highly repressive "counter-terrorist" legislation in the wake of the US bombing of 9/11 has increasingly been used as an excuse to trample on the rights of ordinary citizens as part of the "war on terror". Even in circumstances where such a "war on terror" is being legitimately fought arbitrariness and unreasonableness remain unacceptable.

    The fact that many countries have legislated for the interception of communication is not in dispute. However, this is no excuse to pass legislation which is badly drafted, self-destructive, and disrespectful of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the populace.

    These values are enshrined in many international instruments which have become widely accepted and to which Zimbabwe is party. The Constitution of Zimbabwe carries with it the protection of the freedom of expression and the free flow of information to and from persons. Any interception of communication amounts to an interference with communication rights as protected in international law and the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Several jurisdictions have held that the interception of all communications constitutes a serious breach of human rights. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled on numerous occasions, that "tapping and other forms of interception of telephone conversations constitute a serious interference with private life and correspondence and must accordingly be based on a law that is particularly precise".

    African States, including Zimbabwe, have unanimously adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. These clarify that Freedom of Expression and right to access information includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers. They further seek to protect this freedom as a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy, and to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to exercise the rights without discrimination.

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