Zimbabwe government has enacted a new statutory instrument that allows government to intercept communication and information without any need for judicial authorisation or appeal.
According to the recently enacted Statutory Instrument 94 of 2021, of Postal and Telecommunications (Telecommunications Traffic Monitoring System) Regulations, 2021 [Chapter 12:05],
gazzetted on xxxxxx, it s staes ts that the law enforment agencies can or may snoop into into indivduals communication should they deem fit
Meanwhile Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe National Director Tabani Moyo says the Zimbabwean Government’s enactment of this law allowing government to snoop into communications without judiciary oversight is a great traversty.
Moyo mentioned this hindsight he has personally experienced in the country shunning media repression by the government whilst highlighting the opportunity to present the state of media freedom, expression and access to information in Southern Africa @ the 68th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: the African Union’s quasi-judicial body for promoting and protecting human rights throughout Africa.
The Misa Zim boss presented his statement freely expressing himself a privilege alien to many journalists in the country.
This Statutory Instrument must be treated with the contempt it deserves.It is baseless, unfounded and unwarranted .It is meant to further stifle on Zimbabwean citizen’s rights with big brother always on the watch meaning journalists always have to look over their shoulders. This comes against the background that Zimbabwe has been mentioned amongst top buyers of Cyber-espionage, a software that is deployed in mobile networks telecommunication system by government to monitor and track targeted individuals .
According to Circles, a surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to snoop on calls, texts, and the location of phones around the globe, Zimbabwe was amongst its top customers.
Circles products work without hacking the phone itself.According to leaked documents, Circles customers can purchase a system that they connect to their local telecommunications companies’ infrastructure, or can use a separate system called the “Circles Cloud,” which interconnects with telecommunications companies around the world.
Zimbabwe government earlier on produced a documentary where they published exact GPS location of MDC Alliance activists and possible chats, a move they could have established by using such a software. This development coupled with the enactment of this new Statutory Instrument is certainly no joy for peace loving Zimbabweans who believe in freedom of expression and no one having to snoop around what you are up to.
There is absolutely no difference from poking your nose into someone’s business, no difference from watching people naked and doing whatever they do behind closed doors and such acts are not only bordering on merits of espionage to one’s citizenry but also bordering on encroaching on the civil liberties of whosoever.
Tabani did not mince his words on this cowardice by a snooping regime bent on countering anyone it believes opposes their views. The following entails a copy of the statement the Misa National Director presented;
”MISA ZIMBABWE STATEMENT TO THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS AGENDA ITEM NO.3 ON THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA AT THE 68th ORDINARY SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS.”
”As we celebrate 30 years of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, it is sad that I rise to report on the challenges that the media and the peoples of Southern Africa continue to face in their respective countries. Thirty years on, the problems and complexities facing the media and the press have deepened. This has been exacerbated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to governments and states using the cover of the pandemic to violate the people’s basic rights such as expression, privacy, media freedom and access to information.”
Attacks on the media and safety of journalists is rampant evidenced by Hopewell Chin’ono who still faces several charges at the courts due to his investigative work, while Mduduzi Mathuthu has been forced into hiding for about nine months now after police raided his house over allegations he was plotting on subverting the government.
In 2020, MISA Zimbabwe recorded 52 violations on the media and journalists in Zimbabwe alone.The right to privacy is under attack as has always been under this authoritarian regime.While the SI purportedly seeks to measure all phone calls, it also gives the government the ability to snoop on people’s phone calls, thereby, endangering the right to privacy.
It also creates a dangerous environment where the government may have the ability to snoop into calls between journalists and their sources. The statutory instrument is highly problematic in that the monitoring of traffic call records can easily lead to the disclosure of personal information and data, which leads to exposure of individuals, especially those in the opposition, civic space, the media and activists.
There is need for clearly defined safeguards when the government comes up with such instruments to ensure the right to privacy as provided for by the Constitution under Section 61 is upheld at all material times. The instrument does not set clearly defined limits on the monitoring nor are there guidelines on how the judiciary performs oversight role.
This enactment murks of insincerity in upholding the norms and values of a free society where no one is afraid to express themselves without fearing someone is watching or listening on them.
Zimbabwe is revising its Broadcasting Services Act and other laws. It is also proposing new laws such as the Patriotic Bill, while there are attempts to mutilate the constitution through Constitutional Amendment No.2 (27 amendments).
It is encouraged that we take a stand against SADC countries that have promulgated laws that have the effect of impeding on the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression.On the top list is Zimbabwe with this latest repressive law.