Divisions over controversial cyber bill emerge

By Ratidzo Munembi

People in Masvingo are divided over the controversial Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill which government wants to pass in law in its current state.

At a consultative meeting held at Mucheke Hall on July 06, hosted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Communication Technology and Courier Services, residents were starkly divided in their defence and critique of the bill.

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Those who supported the bill claimed it was critical in the fight against fake news and in preventing political uprising against the government.

Joel Mukusha, a lecturer at the Great Zimbabwe University (GZU), said the bill could not have come at a more opportune moment as the country faced what he claimed were malicious online activities aimed at fomenting chaos in the country.

“We want the bill to be passed into law as soon as yesterday. There is nothing wrong with this bill at all because all its provisions are designed to protect the country from illegal activities that happen online. Many countries are now in chaos because they failed to effectively regulate their cyberspace. Many people are using the internet to instigate violence and chaos.

“Wars are no longer fought using guns and other hardware alone, but using ICTs too. As a country, we are under siege and we need to take action,” said Mukusha.

He was supported by others including Zanu PF youth league member Charles Munganasa who said the cyberspace was a new frontier for works of destabilization.

“A few weeks ago, America accused Zimbabwe of using the internet to instigate violent protests in that country. You can now imagine our own vulnerability as Zimbabwe if a superpower like America could be shaken by the internet,” said Munganasa.

However, people who opposed the bill pointed to its many defects including what they said was its utter failure to protect whistleblowers.

“A law must be designed to protect citizens and not government. The moment such a role is reversed, repression takes root. Section 31 of the bill must be redesigned so that it protects whistleblowers, not criminalize or leave them vulnerable.

“In the name of separation of powers, which is a key tenet of a real democracy, we also want an independent cyber security centre and data protection authority which will be accountable to parliament and not to a minister. POTRAZ cannot be trusted to play that role in a neutral manner because it is a state-controlled institution open to abuse by ruling party politicians,” said Jeffyson Chitando, a member of the opposition MDC Alliance party.

Another resident said, if passed into law in its current form, the bill would infringe on free expression online and will be used to persecute dissenting voices.

“The bill wants the government to play prosecutor and judge at the same time; you can’t be a neutral arbiter in such a situation because you are both player and referee.

“Besides, the use of such technology as key-stroke logger and other forensic tools to obtain individual data for investigation purposes must only be done in clearly-defined situations and within stipulated limits that respect personal privacy and other rights enshrined in the constitution,” said the resident.

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