IN a move calculated to control cyberspace and facilitate spying on citizens, government has consolidated its grip on the telecommunications sector by appointing a senior Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officer as the director-general of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
Potraz this week announced that Gift Kallisto Machengete, who is a director of finance and administration in the President’s Office, has been appointed head of the telecommunications regulatory body.
The development comes at a time the government has been desperately trying to control the use of the internet and social media in the wake of growing discontent over deepening socio-economic hardships.
Sources in the information communication technology (ICT) industry said the government’s latest manoeuvres betray the fact that the government is determined to control cyberspace.
“It’s a statement which confirms that the government wants to control cyberspace and also increase surveillance and monitoring of citizens,” said an official.
Cyberspace is the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs. It deals with everything to do with fibre, and communication storage.
The person who controls cyberspace has power over all information found in the cyber world such as emails, social media and telephone calls.
Political leaders in many parts of the worldbelieve it is in every government’s interest to control cyberspace, especially through legislation.
Zimbabwe already has a law, the Interception of Communication Act (ICA) 2007, which gives the government significant powers of surveillance over the communications of its citizens.
The Computer and Cyber Crime Bill, soon to be presented to the National Assembly, will enable the government to demand the source of information of any content considered as cybercrime from internet service providers.
If passed, the Bill will allow the government to remotely install spying tools onto citizen’s communication devices.
The Data Protection Bill, if passed, will govern the processing of personal information by private and public bodies to prevent unauthorised and arbitrary use, collection, processing, transmission and storage of data of identifiable persons.
“(The Bill intends) to provide for the regulation of data protection, to establish a Data Protection Authority and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental to the foregoing,”it reads.
The draft protection bill also states that the President, in consultation with the ICT minister, is responsible for the appointment of a data control board which, according to sources, insinuates that their appointments can easily be political.
The Electronic Transaction and Electronic Commerce Bill intends to promote legal certainty and enforce ability to monitor electronic transactions and electronic commerce.
It also aims to grant legal recognition to electronic communications and writing and would also provide for the legal effect of electronic signatures as well as secure electronic signatures.
The newly proposed laws will bolster the government’s Rhodesian-like armoury of repressive legislation, consolidating the view that Zimbabwe is now worse than Rhodesia in many respects.
Cabinet has also passed the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy which empowers the government to fully control the cyber world. According to the policy which the Zimbabwe Independent has seen, all internet gateways and infrastructure will be controlled by a single company.
“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,” the document says.
Digital Society of Zimbabwe co-ordinator Christopher Musodza said the ICT policy causes the biggest threat as it sets the tone and direction for the three Bills.
Other than the use of legislation, government also seeks to control the cyber world through ownership and control of entities and infrastructure.
Control of all internet gateways through infrastructure sharing as mentioned in the policy will enable the government to monitor, filter or even block specific internet services like WhatsApp and Twitter from a central point.
Government has been rattled by the use of social media by Zimbabweans to vent their anger over the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Social media has also been used to mobilise people to participate in demonstrations against government misrule.
In June, Potraz threatened to use its database to identify and take action on people sending out “subversive” messages.
“All SIM cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user. Perpetrators can easily be identified. We are therefore warning members of the public that from the date of this notice, any person caught in possession of, generating, sharing or passing on abusive, threatening, subversive or offensive communication messages, including WhatsApp or any other social media messages that may deemed to cause despondency, incite violence, threaten citizens and cause unrest, will be arrested and dealt with accordingly in the national interest,” the official statement read.-Hazel Ndebele