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Cyber Security Bill: New monster in the room

Opinion & Analysis
editorial comment THE recently gazetted Cyber Security Bill has ruffled feathers in Zimbabwe and across the continent.

editorial comment

THE recently gazetted Cyber Security Bill has ruffled feathers in Zimbabwe and across the continent.

It is its obscurity which makes it a dangerous piece of legislation, particularly in a situation where authorities take pleasure in abusing such nebulous pieces of law to suppress the citizenry’s freedoms.

Civic society organisations have voiced their concerns over some technicalities in the Cyber Security Bill Quite notorious is the method of gathering information using this Bill, where the procedure for use of forensic tools like the key stroke logger. It’s not clear in the Bill how and under what circumstances the method would be applied.

This opens a floodgate of snooping into each and every internet user’s private communication.

Bearing in mind how the State has often gone to court with its hands dirty, after getting information illegally or unprocedurally, we should be wary of how the silence on the use of key stroke logging will be abused in the gathering of information.

This is worsened by the fact that the Bill does not provide for judicial oversight or other accountability measures for monitoring and reviewing potential abuses of such intrusive technologies.

For now, let’s assume that such tools were not already in use, considering the appetite for bungling by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration and wanton disregard of the laws of the land.

What makes this Bill more curious is that it will expose whistleblowers, worse those who are in government and are not happy with the endemic corruption taking place. They will be the most affected.

Scandals running into millions of United States dollars, like the Drax International one, will be swept under the carpet as whistleblowers fear having the cyber security laws applied ruthlessly against them.

This seemingly points to a Presidency which is shielding itself from much scrutiny.

Mnangagwa should not railroad the Cyber Security Bill, just as he is doing with Constitutional Amendment No 2.

Taking into consideration how he has taken advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to fast-track processes, our biggest fear is that he will do the same with all legal instruments he may want to alter to suit him.

The Cyber Security Bill needs to have an independent data protection authority which will be answerable to Parliament, with its appointment processes publicly conducted — as is the case in other jurisdictions and according to best practice.

This will serve to minimise the potential for Executive abuse.

Rights defenders say a number of international standards and best practices have been developed and endorsed by governments.

African regional standards that can be drawn on to inform Zimbabwe’s proposed Bill include the Sadc Model Law on Computer Crime and Cybercrime, Sadc Model Law on Data Protection, the African Convention on Cyber Security and Data Protection, and the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.

There is need to equally prioritise and balance cyber security with data protection, privacy and interrelated fundamental rights, which makes it imperative to ensure that the proposed law is unbundled into two stand-alone laws, in conformity with both the Constitution and international legal frameworks.