Zimbabwe’s public have until 26 June 2020 to comment on the controversial Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill (first gazetted by the government on 15 May 2020) before it is effected into the law.
According to the government the Bill was introduced to consolidate cyber-related offences as well as to provide for data protection. It also seeks to increase cybersecurity and secure use of ICT.
However, media watch dog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA- Zimbabwe) believes the intention behind the Bill is to stifle freedom of speech.
The organisation stated: it hopes that the crafting and enforcement of this legislation will not be blinked 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 privacy of internet users in Zimbabwe”.
The Bill reads in part: “The authority shall provide guidelines and approved codes of conduct and ethics governing to be observed by data controllers and categories of data controllers.”
However, MISA-Zimbabwe said: “There is no justification to promote such monopoly by Potraz as this frowns upon the basic principles of efficiency, before even delving into the nitty-gritties of the independence of this body”.
The media watch-dog demands a separate and independent body that handles all cybersecurity issues, comprising all stakeholders who advocate for internet freedom and protection of digital rights.
ICT expert Tsevetana Dhliwayo said, “The rise of citizen journalism and widespread use of the internet has made it easy for the public to generate and spread fake news. The measure provides penalties for the distribution of false information.”
Dhliwayo believes the Bill will restore social order, ensure peace and national security as it prohibits the use of data messages to incite violence and damage to property.
In 2016, Zimbabwe citizens used social media to organise protest action against the ruling party. The protest turned violent, buildings were destroyed and lives lost.
Parallels with South Africa
There are parallels that can be drawn between Zimbabwe’s cybercrime legislation and that which is contained in South Africa’s Cybercrime Bill.
Media reports claim new offences to be regulated by South Africa’s Bill include: data messages which incite damage to property or violence, data messages which threaten persons with damage to property or violence, distribution of data messages which contain an intimate image without that person’s consent.
Transgression could result in fines of up to R150 000 (US$ 9880) and/or up to two years in prison.