On Zimbabwe’s Approval of a Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill

The government of Zimbabwe has approved the Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill of 2017 according to IT Web Africa . The Bill which has been under review for over two years is a merger of three draft Bills, namely the Data Protection Bill, the Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill, and the Computer Crime and Cybercrimes Bill.

Coincidentally, the legislation’s approval comes a few weeks after an internet shutdown was experienced during January 2019 public protests over rising fuel and other commodity prices. While many factions challenged the legality of using the Interception of Communications Act 2017 to effect the internet blockage, the Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill was met with similar criticisms. Critics have pointed out its inability to appeal to a wider purpose other than criminalisation of cybercrimes and computer crimes, without giving provision for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The move to approve the Bill is widely viewed as a means, by the government of Zimbabwe, to fast track laws that will stifle freedom of expression, access to information, promote interference of private communications and data, and in severe cases, search and seizure of private devices.

Paradigm Initiative agrees with the position of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute that the crafting of the Bill was driven by government’s fear of citizen power and its will to protect itself from civic pressure unveiled by unrestrained internet freedoms rather than the need to improve citizen’s security online.

The internet in Zimbabwe has played a critical role in mobilizing people for demonstrations calling for democracy, justice and accountability. If the law comes into effect, people will face up to 5 years in prison, a fine or both for inciting violence using social media pages. In January 2019, activist and Pastor Evan Mawarire was detained for two weeks for encouraging citizens to turn up in large numbers to participate in a planned peaceful protest using a YouTube video.

The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity  Bill which aims to address ‘cybercrime and increase cybersecurity in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of ICTs’, will also facilitate the establishment of a Cyber Security Committee. The multi-stakeholder committee will act as a policy advisory body and as a national contact on cybersecurity issues.

Zimbabwe has been a hotbed for internet related disruptions and arrests in Southern Africa, with a record of multiple social media blocks and a total internet shutdown in 2016 and 2019 respectively.  The Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services defended the country’s recent internet blockage stating that he would not hesitate to shut down the internet again.

There has been no official communication from the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services regarding the Bills approval and the official document has not been made available to the public as of publishing this article. Paradigm Initiative calls on the government to cease all attacks on digital rights.

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