Snoopers’ Charter deeply flawed – MISA

By a Correspondent
HARARE - Zimbabwe's bill to permit spying on private email and telephone messages is flawed and lacks the basic safeguards against unwarranted intrusion into privacy found in other countries, the legal officer for the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Sout

hern Africa (MISA) said in a detailed analysis.
Legal Officer Wilbert Mandinde compared the Interception of Communications Bill with other laws covering wiretaps. In Australia, for example, surveillance can only take place on an individual suspected for a crime carrying a minimum penalty of seven years’ jail
“This ensures that legitimate and normal activities in a democracy such as journalism, civic protests, trade unionism and political opposition, are not subjected to unwarranted surveillance because the individuals involved have different interests and goals than of those in power,” said Mandinde.
Pinpointing one of the widely suspected aims of the Mugabe regime’s bill, he noted that such limitations on wiretaps ensured that relatively minor crimes “are not used as pretexts to conduct intrusive surveillance for political or other reasons.”
Mandinde also complained that the bill made no provision for an independent commission to oversee all interceptions activities. Such commissions operate in many countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Instead, under the Zimbabwe bill, it appeared that state security agents would man a monitoring centre.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Zimbabwe say they face prohibitive costs in installing the monitoring equipment for which they will not be compensated. Mandinde said that when The Netherlands tried to do this in 2001 – the deadline for complying has now been extended – up to a third of Dutch ISPs said they would be bankrupt.
Another big flaw in the Zimbabwe bill is the lack of a requirement to produce annual public reports on electronic surveillance as required in other countries, including the US, Britain, Sweden, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France. Nor is there any requirement to tell those targeted for eavesdropping when the investigation is complete, or timetables for destroying material.
Mandinde said the bill has “immeasurable inadequacies” compared with laws in countries which respect the right to privacy and should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny before it is put before Parliament.
“The bill represents a step backwards and is inconsistent with international standards on human rights and other legal requirements … (and) will inevitably lead to abuses,” he concluded.

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