Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill entrenches surveillance: MISA Zimbabwe analysis of the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, 2019

Introduction

The advent of the Internet and related technological developments have been celebrated for providing platforms for widespread and ‘unrestricted’ exercise of freedom of expression and access to information rights and conducting of transactions online among other aspects.

Indeed, Africa in general, and in Zimbabwe in particular, has witnessed growth in internet penetration.

With the Covid-19 pandemic and implementation of national lockdowns, businesses, education and day to day work in general, is generally now being conducted online thus indicating the importance of digital platforms and tools.

These developments should thus be an awakening for Zimbabwe to have in place a democratic legal framework to regulate online activity. This comes at a time when the continued existence of colonial and unconstitutional laws and flawed democratic practices continue to hinder enjoyment of digital rights.

MISA Zimbabwe therefore notes the long awaited gazetting of the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill whose objective is to increase cyber security in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of information and communication technologies by data controllers, their representatives and data subjects.

In February 2019, following the approval for the repeal of AIPPA by Cabinet , the Data Protection Bill was one of the Bills that was proposed to address data protection and privacy issues in alignment with the Constitution. The gazetted Bill sets out to merge the two aspects: being cybersecurity and data protection.

Shortly before the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe, a Ministry of Cybersecurity, Threat Detection and Mitigation, was set up. Subsequent to reshuffles in government, this ministry morphed into a department under the existing Ministry of Information Communication Technologies.

It is therefore poignant to note that, and according to the then Presidential spokesperson at the material time, the ministry had been established to catch “mischievous rats” that abused social media.

More recently in March 2020, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Commander, Lieutenant-General Edzai Chimonyo, addressing senior military commissioned officers at the Zimbabwe Military Academy in Gweru, highlighted that the military would soon start snooping into private communications between private citizens to “guard against subversion,” as social media has become a threat to national security.

MISA Zimbabwe therefore hopes that the crafting and enforcement of this legislation will not be blinkered or narrowed to entirely prioritise the protection of ‘national interests’ and the prevention of ‘social media abuse’ at the expense of digital security and protection of the privacy of internet users in Zimbabwe.

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Source: MISA Zimbabwe