Lovemore Lubinda|Zimnewsnet

When the Zimbabwe government announced of its intention to enact a cyber crime law, it raised concerns among citizens, more so after the stay away calls that were allegedly organised through social media, got peoples’ heed, amid calls for cross-national engagement and clear definition of cyber crimes.

The worries are that the bill if allowed to sail through and become law, it may be manipulated by the state to suppress opposing views and others are of the view that it was done in bad faith.

Participants in the AMH Conversations held at a local hotel in the capital yesterday expressed the need for a well defined ‘social media abuse,’ saying with the current situation citizens will not freely discuss pertinent issues of concern fearing to be arrested for abuse of social media.

One participant to the discussion had this to say; “For us journalists, the bill will act more to our advantage than for our benefit. If you try to get comments on prevailing issues over social media you may be said to be trying to cause public despondency, and be arrested for that,” said the journalist who could not identify himself.

Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) legal services manager, Revai Mukuruba said the cyber crime bill should be supported by every Zimbabwean as it seeks to protect everyone from computer, internet related crimes, which knows no boundaries, race, age, colour or creed.

She justified need for the bill that security of information and transactions online is as important to the nation as it is to the individual, adding that the advent of the internet has also brought challenges with it. “Two thirds of the world’s population has fallen victim to cyber crime, hence the greater need for international co-operation to deal with this emerging problem. Zimbabwe as a nation is lagging behind in terms of implementation,” she said.

She said the threat posed is on the rise; “There is increased risk of cyber crime this is seen in the rate of internet penetration in the country. For instance, in 2010 internet penetration was 4.8 percent, and it rose sharply to 45 percent in 2015,” she said. Mukuruba added that the country is in a process of harmonising of its cyber security laws to increase international co-operation, the bill was drafted in 2013.

The bill is defined as ‘A Bill for An Act to criminalise offences against computers and network related crime; to consolidate the criminal law on computer crime and network crime; to provide for investigation and collection of evidence for computer and network related crime; to provide for the admission of electronic evidence for such offences, and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.’

She went on to say the bill was not in violation of the constitution, as it acknowledges the right of freedom of expression, media rights but, excluding incitement of violence, advocacy of hatred, among other ill intended usages.

But Coliwe Nyoni, a veteran journalist who also works with Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe), and was part of the panel said the cyber bill while was crafted with good intent by the government, it seems to be protecting the state more than it does to the citizens. She also said the other concern from the people is that it looks to give the state much power, to the extent than even Internet Service Providers (ISP) are vulnerable as well.

“Peoples’ freedom of expression, privacy, consumers’ rights, and peoples’ rights will be undermined, as by just knowing that ISP are vulnerable, it means they lack confidence in them when it comes to security and confidentiality. ISPs cannot be entrusted with data,” she said.

Nyoni was referring to section 22 which reads; “A person other than the suspect who intentionally fails without lawful excuse or justification or in excess of a lawful excuse or justification to permit or assist a person based on an order as specified by sections 30 to 32 commits an offence punishable, on conviction, by imprisonment for a period not exceeding [period], or a fine not exceeding [amount], or both.” This section may it an offense for ISPs not to disclose personal details about their clients, if so required by the authorities.

She said there is need for greater stakeholder engagement so as to clarify issues to do with its implementation, and transparency to requests made as well as defining cyber crime.

A lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyer for Human rights, David Hofisi agrees with Nyoni saying crimes defined in the bill are too broad that may work to the disadvantage of citizens’ rights of freedom of expression. zimnews