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Letters to the editor


Govt snooping on citizens worrisome

IT is a well-known fact that countries spy on their citizens and they also spy on other countries and their leaders. There is a new hacking software called Pegasus. This is a kind of spyware that is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group. It is a spyware that can infect millions of phones running either IOS or Android operating systems.

Pegasus spyware does not only enables the keystroke monitoring of all communications from a phone which include texts, e-mails, web searches, but enables phone call and location tracking, while also permitting NSO Group to hijack both the mobile phone’s microphone and camera, thus turning it into a constant surveillance device. This is the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed by a private company.

Once it has wormed its way on to your phone, without you noticing, it can turn it into a 24-hour surveillance device. It can copy messages you send or receive, harvest your photos and record your calls.

It might secretly film you through your phone’s camera, or activate the microphone to record your conversations. It can potentially pinpoint where you are, where you’ve been, and who you’ve met.

The latest version of the Pegasus is so advanced that you do not have to install or click on anything to activate the malware infection.

Pegasus infections can be achieved through what is called “zero-click” attacks, which do not require any interaction from the phone’s owner in order to succeed.

It is a malware infection that often exploit “zero-day” vulnerabilities, it takes advantage of flaws or bugs in an operating system of the mobile phone’s which the manufacturer is not aware of.

Two years ago, WhatsApp revealed that the same company that NSO’s software was used to send malware to more than 1 400 phones by exploiting a “zero-day” vulnerability. The company simply placed a WhatsApp call to a targeted device and the malicious spyware code was installed on the mobile phone.

Even if the target had not answered the call. Recently NSO has been exploiting vulnerabilities in Apple’s iMessage software, giving it a backdoor access to hundreds of millions of iPhones.

Apple says it is continually updating its software to prevent such attacks, but has never managed to contain the vulnerability of its devices.

Information at hand indicates that NSO has invested a substantial effort in making its software difficult to detect and Pegasus infections are now very hard to identify.

Researchers suspect more recent versions of Pegasus only ever inhabit the phone’s temporary memory, rather than its hard drive, meaning that once the phone is powered down virtually all trace of the software vanishes.

With this kind of software in existence it, we no longer have privacy and freedom. Our governments do not need eyes and ears to spy on its citizens. All that is required is the cellphone number and you are at the mercy of the spy- ZICT

Misa bemoans muzzling of freedoms

MISA Zimbabwe has made two submissions to the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Zimbabwe, where it noted improvements in the legislative environment, but decried clawback provisions in proposed new laws that have the effect of infringing on freedom of expression.

The UPR is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

In the first submission, Misa Zimbabwe collaborated with the umbrella Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz), where the two organisations noted that as per the UPR second cycle recommendations, the government was forging ahead with the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

In July 2020, government promulgated the Freedom of Information Act, which is “seen as a positive step”. However, government is yet to put in place mechanisms that operationalise the law.

Misa and Maz were also concerned that laws such as the proposed Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill had the effect of reversing the gains brought by the Freedom of Information Act. The Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill criminalises the publishing of falsehoods, which the Constitutional Court had already declared unconstitutional.

It also imposes surveillance on citizens and this has the potential to infringe on freedom of expression, association and of the media.

Misa and Maz also raised concern with attacks on journalists, which was particularly high in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two media rights advocacy groups pointed out that there is a noticeable sustained culture of violations against journalists and media workers in Zimbabwe.

Among the recommendations, Misa and Maz urged government to commit to the principle of co-regulation of the media.

Further, they recommended that government should provide a clear timeline on when emergency laws that were promulgated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak would be repealed as they have the effect of infringing on freedom of expression.

Misa and Maz urged the Zimbabwean government to recant the Sadc resolution on taking pre-emptive measures against the so-called abuse of social media and ensure that it is not party to resolutions that have the effect of infringing on freedom of expression and of the media.

In the second submission, which centred mainly on digital rights, Misa collaborated with the Small Media and Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

The submission recommended that government should uphold the right to privacy by enacting a data protection and privacy law in consultation with stakeholders, and to amend provisions of the Interception of Communications Act to provide for judicial oversight on lawful surveillance.

The organisations further recommended that government should end the practice of internet shutdowns and ensure that restrictions on internet access, online expression, assembly and association are consistent with international and regional human rights standards.

To ensure access to the internet, the organisations recommended that the authorities put in place measures to reduce costs of internet access including the deployment of the Universal Access Fund for increased affordability and digital inclusion of marginalised groups including women, rural communities and persons with disabilities- Misa Zimbabwe


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