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  • Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles

  • MISA-Zimbabwe statement on revised spying Bill
    November 30, 2006

    MISA-Zimbabwe notes with great concern that the revised Interception of Communications Bill (ICB) still retains undemocratic provisions that threaten the citizensí rights to the fundamental rights of privacy, freedom of conscience and association and urges the Parliament of Zimbabwe not to pass the proposed law.

    It is regrettable that the government appears determined to have the Bill passed regardless of the concerns and input of civic society organisations, private citizens and the business community which were recorded during oral submissions before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications.

    An objective analysis of the Bill undertaken by MISA-Zimbabwe shows that even in its revised form, the ICB is retrogressive and repressive and has no place in a democratic society. As was the case with the original Bill, the revised version is badly crafted and littered with vague provisions that render it as a dangerously bad law.

    The Bill fails to disclose the solid objective behind the proposal for interception of communications.

    The proposed law betrays the governmentís determination to criminalise matters that should ordinarily be dealt with by civil courts or through alternative dispute resolution. In addition, the Bill fails to ensure that legitimate professional activities normal in a democracy such as journalism, civic protests, trade unionism and political opposition are not subjected to unwarranted surveillance thereby posing a serious threat to media freedom and freedom of expression.

    News materials could be intercepted in the course of transmission thereby making it impossible or difficult for media houses to operate freely and unhindered. If passed in its present form the ICB will adversely restrict the nationís access to information and infringe on freedom of expression rights.

    Even more worrying is the serious threat that the proposed law poses on the viability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) some of whom have already indicated that they will be left with no option other than having to close shop.

    ISPs, the banking, legal and other industries and professions will no longer be able to assure clients that issues discussed or information conveyed in the normal transaction of business will remain private and confidential.

    Service providers in the communications industry risk incurring huge capital expenses through the acquisition of hardware and software as compelled under the proposed law.

    While the revised version of the proposed law contains a few positive developments such as the reduction of the Ministerial powers by transferring certain functions to the Administrative Courts and the provision of review functions by the Attorney General or the Administrative Court, it still falls far short of accommodating the concerns of citizens and remains of great concern.

    For instance, the Bill extends the grace period within which appeals may be lodged from two weeks to four weeks but the victim might not even be aware of the existence of the warrant of interception thereby depriving oneís right to appeal.

    The three-month duration of the warrants in question is far too long. Why should a citizenís privacy be under invasion for such a long time? The Original Bill provided that the life of a renewed warrant would be only one month long. The revised version extends this to three months.

    Further, the Bill does not provide any limit as to the number of times for which warrants may be renewed. Any reasonable and justifiable law should afford citizens a substantial degree of certainty. The Bill is also flawed in that it does not provide for compensation or damages in the case of the issuance of wrongful or malicious warrants. The protection granted to those authorised to issue the warrants in question is grossly unjustifiable.

    It is MISA-Zimbabwe firm view that the negative aspects of the proposed law as contained in the revised version far outweigh the positive ones.

    The Bill should therefore be rejected in its entirety. And any Parliament that respects constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and the declarations, charters and conventions of which Zimbabwe is signatory to, cannot be expected to pass this bill.

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