Mugabe Loyalists Fight to spy on Citizens

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s political loyalists are fighting to seize the main functions of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology under Minister Nelson Chamisa to exercise a free rein in snooping on people’s communications.

Last week Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu tried to invade Chamisa’s ministry by visiting state entities under his control, leading to a clash between the two. It is understood the main issue is spying on citizens with the help of TelOne and cellular phone networks.

Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai have resolved the issue, although Mugabe’s loyalists want to make yet another back-door bid to control the flow of information arising from the Interception of Communications Act.

The Act establishes an interception of communications monitoring centre to intercept calls and messages during the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related service system.  

Those authorised to make applications for interception of communications include the Chief of Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the President’s department of national security (CIO), the Police Commissioner-General and the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.  

The minister — in this case Chamisa — is authorised to issue an interception warrant to authorised persons where there are reasonable grounds for the minister to believe (among otherΩthings) that a serious offence has been or is being or will probably be committed or that there is threat to the safety or national security of the country.  

The warrant issued by the minister is valid for a period not exceeding three months and must specify the name and address of an interception target.  No court shall accept as evidence where such evidence has been obtained by means of any interception committed in contravention of the Act.  

Telecommunication service providers are required to install hardware and software facilities and devices to enable interception of communications.

The telecommunications services, connected to the monitoring centre, can store information or be re-routed to the monitoring centre.  

The telecommunications service providers are paid for helping government spy on their customers. But they must not disclose that they have been approached.

This means that the fixed network TelOne and cellular phone companies, NetOne, Econet and Telecel — who survive on income from customers — are being remunerated for aiding and abetting spying on the same customers.

The Act also deals with the application procedure for the detention of any “suspicious postal article”. An authorised person may apply to the minister for an order to detain and examine the postal article where the authorised person has reasonable grounds to suspect that the postal article contains anything in respect of which an offence or attempted offence is being committed.

Authorised persons are required to destroy as soon as possible after use any intercepted material. Those aggrieved by a warrant, directive or order by spying agents may appeal to the Administrative Court which can confirm, vary or set aside challenged warrants. The Attorney-General has powers to examine how the minister is exercising his authority. — Staff Writer.