Reporters Without Borders regrets that the Interception of Communications Act was finally signed into law by President Robert Mugabe on 3 August. It enables the government to intercept phone calls, emails and faxes with the declared aim of protecting national security.
“The promulgation of this law is further evidence of Mugabe’s desire to keep news and information under close control,” the organisation said. “Zimbabwe had already given itself one of the world’s most repressive legislative arsenals as regards press freedom. Now all forms of communication have been placed under surveillance.”
15.06.2007 - Parliament’s lower house approves bill for intercepting communications
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the Zimbabwean House of Assembly’s approval on 13 June of a draft law that would allow the government to intercept mail, phone calls and email without having to seek a court order. The government submitted a similar bill to parliament last year but withdrew it after complaints from national and international organisations.
“This bill is evidence that the government is determined to have strict control over information,” the press freedom organisation said. “The fight against terrorism is constantly used by oppressive regimes as a pretext for cracking down on freedoms. We appeal to the senate, which is due to consider the bill soon, to reject it.”
If adopted, the law will expose journalists, NGOs and human rights activists to the possibility - a real one in Zimbabwe - of being accused of representing a threat to national security.
31.07.06 - Bill for monitoring e-mail and mobile phone calls submitted to parliament
Reporters Without Borders condemned the Interception of Communications Bill that was submitted on 26 July to the Zimbabwean parliament. It would allow the authorities to intercept and read e-mail messages and listen to mobile phone calls without needing to get permission from a judge.
“We deplore this new proposed law, which would clearly violate every citizen’s privacy, the freedom of expression and opinion, and the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Although not on the front line of the fight against terrorism, the regime is clearly using this as a pretext for silencing its critics in the press and political opposition, and we therefore call on the parliamentary legal committee, parliamentarians in general and, if it gets that far, the supreme court, to reject the bill,” Reporters Without Borders added.
The parliamentary legal committee is currently examining the bill to determine if it conforms to the constitution. If approved, it will be go before the entire parliament.
09.05.2006 - Serious threat seen in proposed law on intercepting communications
A bill presented to the Zimbabwean parliament at the end of March will give the government a free hand to intercept its citizens’ phone calls, e-mail messages and letters without providing any credible safeguards, Reporters Without Borders said today after obtaining a copy of the bill, the text of which is now available on the organisation’s site (www.rsf.org).
“We fear the worst,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This bill will allow the authorities to place journalists and opposition politicians under surveillance without any control from the courts. It also directly threatens the local contacts of international media and NGOs. The government will have new tools to ensure that no embarrassing news or information crosses its borders.”
The organisation added: “This proposed law is all the more worrying as it will give full powers to transport and communications minister George Charamba, who said at the end of last month that press freedom was just an ‘auxiliary right’.”
The bill envisages 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 proposed law says the ICMC would provide technical assistance to companies but does not specify what software would be used. However, a South African online newspaper reported in May 2005 that the Zimbabwean government has discussing the acquisition of communication interception technology with China. At the same time, Zimbabwean sources say Chinese equipment is already being used to jam independent radio broadcasts.
The bill envisages that the chief of the Defence intelligence, the Director general of the President’s department of national security, the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue authority would all able to submit requests for phone taps and other forms of communications interception to the transport and communications minister. This minister is the only official authorised to issue an interception warrant, which he can do if he thinks a "serious offence has been or is being or will probably be committed" or if there is a "threat to national security".
The warrant issued by the minister will be valid for three months, but he will be able to renew it as often as he likes if he thinks there is “good reason.” And he is not subject to control by any court. It is also alarming that the bill says that an interception request can be made orally in “the case of emergency or the existence of exceptional circumstances.”
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Interception of Communications Bill