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  • Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles


  • Analysis of the Interception of Communication Bill 2006: Interception and deception!
    Jacob Mapfume for MISA-Zimbabwe
    April 21, 2006

    This analysis may be reproduced and used in any research, advocacy, educational and lobby work, except for profit, with the acknowledgment of MISA-Zimbabwe.

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    Background
    Zimbabweans have witnessed the promulgation of a number of, repressive laws, which have contributed to the shrinking of the democratic space and the operating environment of human rights defenders and activists. The introduction of the Interception of Communications Bill (hereinafter the Bill) adds to the number of laws, which have attacked the enjoyment, and furtherance of human rights in Zimbabwe, in particular freedom of expression and right to receive and impart information among other rights. The following analysis gives simplified understanding of the implications of passing such a law in its currents state and requirements and obligations of the government of Zimbabwe in terms of its constitutional, international and regional human rights law obligation.

    SUMMARY OF THE BILL AND INTRODUCTORY OBSERVATIONS

    Part 1 & 2
    The object of the Bill as stated in the introductory memorandum and the long title, is to give effect to Interception of Communications Monitoring Center, shall have the mandate to implement the provisions of the Bill, thus to intercept communications in the course of their transmission through either telecommunications, postal emails and any other related service.

    Part 3
    The Bill specifies the persons who shall have authority to make applications for interception of communication. Certain officers who are directly under the Office of the President or Executive are empowered to make applications for authorized interceptions of communications; these individuals include the Chief of Defense Intelligence, the Director- General of the President’s Department of the National Security, The Commissioner of Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

    The above persons who occupy critical offices in terms of economic and political security of the state can make representations to the Minister (of Transport and Communications or any other Minister to whom the functions can be assigned by the President) for conducting of interceptions. A warrant of interception is granted on reasonable grounds or belief that a serious offence has been or is being or will be committed or that there is a threat to safety or “national security” of the country or the information might be of compelling national economic interests of the country. National security of Zimbabwe includes matters relating to the existence, independence and safety of the state. The warrant lasts for 3 months and can be renewed every month until such a time that the intended interception has been undertaken. The powers granted to the security officers in this Bill are subject to judicial scrutiny, however there are high probabilities abuse of power by targeting organizations and individuals. This Bill will obviously target legitimate political activists and organizations that have been targeted in the past by state institutions and laws . Such provisions are in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and privacy as stipulated in Constitution of Zimbabwe and various supra national human rights instruments which Zimbabwe has ratified.

    The Bill states that information, which has been intercepted, shall not be disclosed to any other person except, where the information is required in any proceedings in any court of law.

    Part 4
    The Bill also provides for general prohibitions and exemptions from disclosure of any information that is obtained in the exercise of duty in terms of the Bill. The Bill allows only authorized persons that execute the interception of communication to disclose to extend the proper performance of duties. It authorizes the destruction as soon as possible the information that shall be intercepted.

    The Bill states that the authorized persons can apply for the detention order to detain any postal article which they suspect contains anything in respect of which an offence or attempted offence is being committed. The Bill does not specify the nature of offences or grounds that are deemed a threat to national security, this adds to a plethora of laws that have been enacted under the guise of being “a state under siege”. The ambiguity will give them, ground to intercept the communications on unreasonable grounds, which are not reasonably justifiable in a democracy. The grounds under which an application for interception can be made are open to abuse thus a broad array of offences, which leaves many members of civil society at arms way, and thus run the risk of having their communications intercepted, recorded and used in courts of law against them.

    It is important for Parliament and the citizens that are going to be subjected to this Bill to conceptualize the right to freedom of expression and privacy under the various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While factoring and debating the substantive and procedural as well as the protectionist attributes of the Bill it should do so in light of minimum standards that are universally acceptable and as set out by international human rights declarations.

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