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Govt sharpens spying tools

Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira has submitted the draft National Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy document, which when signed by President Robert Mugabe, will tighten government’s grip on cyberspace while facilitating spying on its citizens.

Hazel Ndebele

The draft policy, which proposes the establishment of a quasi-government entity to monitor internet traffic, was presented to the Office of the President and Cabinet last month and will become national policy once it is signed. It will not go through parliament.

The policy, seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, states that all internet gateways and infrastructure will be controlled by a single company while a National Data Centre “to support both public and high security services and information” will be set up.

The data centre will also allow government “to centralise information storage, management and protection”.
The policy, alongside the Data Protection Bill, Computer and Cybercrime Bill, which will allow government to install a remote forensic tool (spying tool) onto citizens’ communication devices such as phones, will enable government to effectively spy on citizens.

Section 21(3) of the ICT policy titled The National Backbone Company reads: “Currently, there are several ICT state-owned enterprises providing internet backbone services which lead to duplication of investment, sub-optimal co-ordination and ultimately higher prices to end users.

“The Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services will seek to consolidate all internet backbone assets in a single company.”

The policy states that the starting point will be to transfer all relevant existing assets into a single company with a shareholding proportional to the assets contribution by the entities involved.

“The government has long stated its policy for a single gateway operator. In order to co-ordinate the proliferation of international gateways and stem revenue losses, there shall be one super-gateway which shall be the entry and exit point for all international traffic,” says the policy.

Digital Society of Zimbabwe co-ordinator Christopher Musodza said with control of all internet gateways, it will be technically feasible for government to monitor, filter or even block internet traffic.

“Considering the mandatory registration of all internet and telephone accounts, mass surveillance and interception will be an achievable task,” said Musodza.

“I hope the judiciary will have an oversight role and that we will be able to draw the line between national security and the respect of citizens’ digital rights.”

The draft policy document also highlights the need for infrastructure sharing which the country’s largest telecommunications company in terms of subscriber base, Econet Wireless, has been resisting.

“The government of Zimbabwe has embarked on a deliberate policy to encourage commercial infrastructure sharing. Infrastructure sharing will result in the efficient use of national resources and avoids duplication of infrastructure,” the draft policy says.

ICT infrastructure refers to the physical structures, hardware and software that enable connectivity and usage.
While IT experts agree that it is necessary for government to consider national security, there is need to avoid trampling on citizens’ rights.

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