ZimbabweÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Interception and Communication Bill is set to become law
after both Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament passed it without
amendments, writes Torby Muturikwa.
The bill now awaits President Robert Mugabe's signature to be signed into law.
On June 13, the lower House passed the bill before the upper house gave it the nod without changes on June 14 – to pave way for yet another blow to the country's deepening human rights and freedom of expression problems.
Under the new law, the Chief of Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority will be allowed to intercept telephonic, e-mail and cellphone messages.
The bill will see the creation of an Interception of Communication Monitoring Centre (ICMC) staffed by experts able to spy on every kind of data.
It says that telecommunications companies such as Internet Service Providers will have to install interception software and set up a direct connection to the ICMC to allow real-time monitoring. Company executives who refuse to comply could face up to three years in prison.
The bill says the ICMC will provide technical assistance to companies.
However, a South African online newspaper reported in May 2005 that the Zimbabwean government has been discussing the acquisition of communication interception technology with China.
Free Expression groups and leading lawyers have slammed the bill.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe said the passing of the bill marks yet another sad and retrogressive chapter in the countryÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s unfolding crisis as it has serious implications on the citizensÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ fundamental right to freely express themselves.
Section 20 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom to receive and impart ideas without interference with ones correspondence.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ÂBy passing this Bill let alone without any amendments, the House of Assembly has regrettably and sadly contributed yet another devastating blow to the country's deepening human rights and political crisis which is being duly recorded by historians and will be judged accordingly by posterity,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said Misa Zimbabwe director Rashweat Mukundu.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ÂThe future viability and development of the telecommunications sector will also be seriously compromised by this draconian law considering that internet service providers will have to bear high costs as they will be expected to install the enabling spying equipment in a country that is experiencing acute foreign currency shortages.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Bulawayo South legislator David Coltart, of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the judiciary and not the Attorney-General should be empowered to review the exercise of the powers of the Minister of Transport and Communications in the issuing of warrants for interception of communication.
Coltart also argued that the decision on the right to grant a warrant should be the preserve of the judiciary and not the Executive.