THE Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill on Wednesday sailed through the Senate without debate, but media lobby groups have immediately expressed wary over the potential abuse of the law by the government to trample on people’s rights to information.
Its provisions have been subjected to widespread criticism on the grounds that it violates fundamental rights such as the right to privacy, the right to freedom of speech and the right to access to information.
The Bill, which now awaits Presidential assent to make it law, will regulate the use of the internet and social media activities to curb computer crimes such as spreading of pornographic content, and other internet related financial fraudulent activities, including criminalising child-pornography.
Unlike senators, who were mum and did not debate the Bill during its Committee Reading Stage on Wednesday, there was heated debate in the National Assembly on the philosophy of the Bill after MPs said it curtailed human rights.
Some of the arguments by MPs in the National Assembly were that the proposed law will remove certain rights, such as the right to protect one’s health information.
There were also suggestions that the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill had some provisions which needed to be placed in an omnibus Criminal Codification Act so that it deals with internet and hate crime.
The law prescribes 10-year sentences for hate speech at a time that some Zimbabweans have in the past been arraigned before the courts for denigrating the President of the republic.
Zanu PF MPs like Webster Shamu (Chegutu East) had welcomed the new law saying it would deal with cyber threats that affect governments, individuals and organisations.
“Zimbabwe’s war on cybercrime is an aspect that should not be taken lightly. We have to be wary of the technological advantage that can give us track on the sovereignty of this nation,” Shamu said recently during the Second Reading Stage of the Bill in the National Assembly.
Opposition MPs in Parliament felt that the law was being crafted to deal with them. Some of their arguments included that there was a need for an independent body to regulate internet services as government-controlled bodies can take orders from the Executive.
For instance on January 14, 2019, there was an internet shutdown where the Minister for State Security instructed internet service providers who are regulated by the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to shut off the internet because there were threats of demonstrations in the country.
Other critics say the Bill will add into the continued shrinking of democratic space in the country.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Dube said senators were supposed to apply their minds on the devastating effects of the law and in its present state, adding many misgivings raised by the civic society desperately needed debate.
“The Cyber Security Bill has contentious issues that need extensive debate,” Dube said.
“The Bill in its present state is an assault on citizen’s right to information. It is unfortunate that the state will hide behind security to deny the citizens their right to information. The law is more dangerous to journalism, where sources are often protected by the law, will no longer be able to give information knowing they are being snooped on.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo said his organisation made several recommendations to unbundle the Bill which were ignored. He said Misa was concerned because the Bill had a pro-security approach, rather than a human rights one.
He said there was a need to unbundle several activities to avoid creating a monster institution in the form of Potraz. — Staff Writer.