Government defends maligned cyber law

GOVERNMENT has defended the proposed Cyber Bill, saying it is aimed at protecting ICT users from theft and fraud, while promoting accountability on social media.

BY XOLISANI NCUBE

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Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) legal service manager, Revai Mukuruva, told an Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) public discussion on the cyber laws and social media that the proposed legislation would protect people from abuse due to increased internet usage.

“Data theft, identity theft and scams are among cybercrimes covered in the Cyber Bill. The Bill was crafted after we checked whether it was constitutional. It’s covered in Section 61 of the Constitution on the right to freedom of expression,” she said.

Mukuruva said the law was not crafted in response to the current wave of anti-government protests organised via social media platforms, as the process started in 2013.

Mukuruva said the Bill was in fulfilment of Zimbabwe’s international obligations on cyber protection.

Human rights activists have criticised the proposed cyber law, suggesting that it is targeting opposition members, who are using cyberspace to register their anger and frustration over government failure.

Participates at the indaba, who included human rights lawyers, ICT users, journalists, business executives and activists, said government should consult widely, as the proposed law would stifle democratic discourse, while promoting State repression.

David Hofisi, of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said section 19 of the proposed Bill criminalises not just generation, but distribution or possession of content or information that would be deemed illegal.

“People are concerned about extensive police powers in the Bill against the little judicial oversight. In the Bill, a police officer many confiscate somebody’s device on mere suspicion,” he said.

Another panellist and Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe official, Koliwe Nyoni-Majama, said the Bill fell short in protecting the gathering and distribution of information, which could be at times deemed illegal by the State.


“How is this Bill going to protect journalists in content production? We will be under fire. We have seen a situation where police officers confiscate journalists’ phones. More recently, a journalist was arrested and we have police officers sniffing through his phone. That is our worry,” she said.

But another panellist and Potraz official, Tsitsi Mariwo, insisted the wider application of the cyber security law sought to protect individuals, communities and the country’s critical infrastructure from cyber attacks.

“We have a responsibility to play our part as a country in terms of fulfilling our national, regional and international commitments to put measures to address the illegal activities associated with use of cyberspace,” she said.

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