The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill: Grave consequences on Internet freedoms in Zimbabwe

Major Highlights

Done in partial contribution to ZDI and Media Centre investigation into the state of internet governance/freedom in Zimbabwe, this paper presents findings of the study of the Cybercrime and Cyber-security Bill and its implications on online access to information, media freedom and freedom of speech. It examines: (i) The Cybercrime Bill’s domestic and constitutional context and; (ii) selected key sections of The Cybercrime Bill’s highlighting their implications on internet freedoms in Zimbabwe. This was aimed at identifying the flaws associated with The Cybercrime Bill, mapping advocacy areas, informing advocacy on the matter and lobbying for the revision of the Cybercrime Bill to ensure consistency with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of and international human rights practices before it is enacted into law. Thus, following is a summary of key findings:

  • The political context of the Cybercrime Bill dictates that, in crafting this Bill, the government was driven more by its fear of the citizen power and its desire to protect itself from citizen and civic pressure unveiled by unsuppressed internet freedom than amplifying citizens’ security when exercising their freedoms online.
  • The Bill is very repressive and ideas behind it germinated from the ruling regime’s realization that internet use in the country is on a growing trend and this has catapulted its use for: (i) massive citizen mobilization for accountability advocacy; (ii) human rights and accountability monitoring; (iii) conduct country-wide civic education, voter education and other electoral purposes and; (iv) give citizens alternative sources of information and fact-checking free of manipulation done in the mainstream media.
  • Although with some progressive attempts to curb cybercrime, the Cybercrime and Cyber-security Bill was, to a greater extent, crafted with authoritarian intentions to: (i) instigate self-censorship among citizens and thereby cushioning government against citizen oversight; (ii) increase government authority and ability to ‘legally’ violate privacy thereby enabling state interference with communications online and; (iii) contain, dissuade and clampdown potential social media revolutions and demonstrations that had proven to be presenting a real platform for citizens’ will to be done.
  • The Cybercrime Bill is ultra-vires the founding values and basic pillars of the Constitution since citizens’ right to access information and freedom of expression are stifled by the Bill regardless of the fact that these rights are provided for in the Constitution of the country. It is therefore, null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.
  • The Cybercrime Bill gives a superfluous definition of a ‘computer device’ and computer data storage medium which gives room for investigating officers to seize personal electronic equipment and interfere with personal communications even if devices seized are not linked to cybercrime.
  • The Cybercrime Bill is very unclear about vital legal and institutional safeguards in place to protect individual rights given that it legalises breach of online privacy, and interference with private communications by state agents in their process of collecting evidence or prosecution of cybercrimes.
  • The Cybercrime Bill impacts negatively on the citizens’ right to privacy enshrined under 57 of the Constitution because: (i) citizens will be subjected to State’s searching of their personal possessions; (ii) it imposes restriction of personal autonomy. The Cybercrime and Cyber-security Bill infringes human rights as its provisions run counter to the constitution of Zimbabwe.
  • The Cybercrime Bill has very contentious omissions that render too much volition to state agents to define law for citizens, thus leaving citizens vulnerable to abuse. For instance, there is no clarity or certainty on what the law means by “unlawful” access to information and “unlawful” acquisition of data stipulated in Section 6 of The Cybercrime Bill.
  • There is need for civil society to embark on massive mobilization and sensitization of the people through conducting road-shows to: (i) inform citizens about grave implications of The Cybercrime Bill on their internet freedoms; (ii) demonstrate against The Cybercrime Bill’s repressive provisions and; (iii) petition the government to revise and amend The Cybercrime Bill’s suppressive provisions before being enacted into law.
  • There is need for media and media support organisations to conduct and promote citizen education and enlightenment on the Cybercrime Bill and initiate much-needed reforms in regard to the statute. Well informed citizens are in a better position to monitor and hold government officials to account for their conduct in public offices.

Source: Zimbabwe Democracy Institute and Media Centre

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