HARARE – Government will enact the Computers and Cyber Crime Bill, which will empower it to snoop into people’s phones, before the country holds the eagerly anticipated 2018 elections.
Information Communication Technology minister (ICT) Supa Mandiwanzira said enactment of the Bill into law should not coincide with the crucial polls.
Mandiwanzira made these remarks while officially opening a Southern Africa media stakeholders’ conference that was recently convened by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz) under the theme, ‘‘Promoting Internet freedom and free expression in southern Africa’’.
“Consultations around the Cyber Bills are at an advanced stage and the ICT ministry will soon be tabling them before Cabinet,” said Mandiwanzira.
“We do not want this process to be viewed as an attempt to curtail people’s freedoms during the elections period and as such we will seek to conclude the process as soon as possible.”
Although the Bill, which critics say grants government access into citizens’ lives, is viewed with suspicion by many, Mandiwanzira said people are free to make their contributions before it is taken to Cabinet and eventually Parliament where it will be passed into law.
“We have an open door policy at the ministry and continue to urge any citizen with submissions on the Bill to bring them forward so that we can address the concerns.
“At the end of the day we want laws that strike a balance between promoting citizens freedoms while protecting them.”
The former deputy minister of Media and Information also revealed that government is working with other countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) in promoting Internet access, with an 80 percent Internet penetration target by 2020.
“As Zimbabwe we are aiming to supersede the regional target and we are aiming to reach 100 percent Internet penetration by 2020. We also want to be trendsetters in so far as implementing progressive cyber legislation in line with Sadc model law.”
He said that the uptake and use of ICTs in Zimbabwe has greatly increased in recent years and that government continues to invest in ICTs infrastructure development and education.
“Zimbabwe currently has an active mobile penetration reach of 94,8 percent and Internet penetration rate of 50 percent as of 31 December 2016.
“The government has developed information kiosks and community information centres for the less privileged members of society to have access to development information.”
He added that the ICT ministry was also committed to addressing the issue on the cost of accessing the Internet as evidenced by government’s intervention in scraping the hikes to mobile data tariffs so that citizens are not priced off their right to speak and interact.
“The contribution of civil society in the ongoing consultations is greatly appreciated as it complements the capacity building exercises and awareness campaigns being carried out by Sadc and its member states,” he said.
Speaking at the same occasion, Maz programmes manager Nigel Nyamutumbu said there is need for southern Africa to collectively address common challenges curtailing the enjoyment of media freedom in the region.
“Southern Africa is faced with common media challenges particularly as it relates to the legal and policy framework, the safety and security of journalists, Internet freedom and even media professionalism,” said Nyamutumbu.
The conference was attended by various media stakeholders in the region including editors, journalists, government officials, online activists, media managers and civil society organisations among others. – Daily News