Snooping bill evidence of govt’s desperation

HARARE - The proposed Interception of Communications law has been described as a replication of desperate measures being taken by the ruling Zanu (PF) government to maintain its stranglehold on power amid growing discontent against its failure to resolve the country's socio-economic and political wo

Speaking during a public meeting organised by MISA-Zimbabwe in Harare on 6 September 2006, political analysts said the Interception of Communications Bill was part of a battery of other existing repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Constitutional Amendment (No 17) Act designed to stifle opposing views and perpetuate Zanu (PF) hegemony.
Constitutional law expert Dr Lovemore Madhuku, said debate on the constitutionality of the Bill should be taken in the context of whether Zimbabwe is a functioning democracy with a democratic constitution.
Madhuku said the issue of whether the Bill is just, unjust or constitutional in a democracy hinges on the type of constitution in place in Zimbabwe and whether the country’s Supreme Court as the final arbiter in determining its constitutionality, is independent from the executive arm of the state.
Leading human rights organisations, the business community, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), which comprises MISA-Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), are pushing for the withdrawal of the Bill arguing that its provisions are vague and unconstitutional as they violate the right to freedom of expression, privacy and business confidentiality.
The Minister of Transport and Communications Christopher Mushowe is on record saying the government would revisit the Bill for purposes of removing its contentious provisions. Mushowe made the undertaking when he appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications following submissions made to the Committee by MAZ, civic society organisations and the business community.
The proposed law, which does not provide for judicial and parliamentary oversight among other contentious provisions, seeks to empower the chief of defence intelligence, the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to intercept telephonic, e-mail and cellphone messages.
The Bill also empowers state agencies to open mail passing through the post and through licensed courier service providers.
Madhuku noted that the constitution empowers the state to interfere with our freedoms provided that interference is reasonable, justifiable and necessary in a democratic society.
“In discussing this Bill, the question then arises as to whether we are a democracy. Clearly we are not a democracy hence my argument on the limitations of whether the Bill is constitutional or not.
“What is required is a huge political reform process … a new constitution and free and fair elections. Until we have a democratic constitution our arguments on the constitutionality of the Bill will be limited and not sufficient.” – MISA

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