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  • Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles

  • Too much to monitor for snooping squads
    Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
    August 07, 2007

    View the Index of articles on the Interception of Communications Bill

    Hardly four days after Robert Mugabe signed the Interception of Communications Bill into law, unconfirmed reports suggest that out of 45 state security operatives trained by Chinese instructors, at least 10 have now been deployed at the Mazoe Earth Satellite station outside Harare this week. The station serves as the portal for Internet traffic in and out of Zimbabwe via satellite connectivity to Intelsat, the world's largest commercial satellite communications services provider. The Mazoe station is also Zimbabwe's largest international telecommunications link.

    The new law provides for the setting up of an interception centre but it's not clear whether this will be located in Mazoe and if so what the role of those deployed there will be.

    A well-placed source says the general talk among those implementing the project is that they have conceded it will be impossible to monitor everyone's communication. 'It would need the whole security industry to participate in this exercise, so essentially they are relying on the fear factor to discourage free speech amongst Zimbabweans.' A considerable number of people in urban areas use e-mail, faxes, mobile and landline phones. The net result is that traffic is so huge even the networks are failing to manage. This is certain to place an unmanageable workload on those trying to monitor.

    The role of China in aiding repressive regimes around the world comes under the microscope once again. It has been reported that it's the Chinese who supplied equipment for jamming outside broadcasts from independent stations like SW Radio Africa and Voice of America's Studio 7. That the same Chinese government will help implement the latest project in Zimbabwe comes as no surprise. Big corporate entities like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have also come under criticism for cooperating with the Chinese government in its censorship drive. Whether Mugabe will secure similar concessions is yet to be seen. Tapping into the Yahoo and Hotmail systems would in principle need the cooperation of those companies.

    Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile slammed the government for passing the controversial snooping law. The group said, 'the promulgation of this law is further evidence of Mugabe's desire to keep news and information under close control.' To add insult to injury Internet Service Providers are compelled to install and pay for the equipment themselves, and the cost implications in foreign currency are likely to cripple some of them.

    "A service provider who fails to give assistance in terms of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both," reads part of the Act.

    As usual government is depending on the 'fear factor' to do much of the work for them - silencing discussion and criticism. But the bottom line is that they can't listen to and monitor every single person - what they can do is target individuals, and they've been doing that already for a long, long time.

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