Namibia Alert Update: Opposition call for referendum on proposed snooping law

namibia_coat_of_armsNamibian opposition legislators on 29 June called for the government to hold a referendum on the proposed communications bill which contains clauses allowing the state to spy on its citizens. Opposition legislators say they are far less convinced that the Communications Bill, and particularly the section calling for the setting up of

Opposition Member of Parliament Nora Schimming-Chase yesterday said if Government meant to protect the interests of the people, then it should refer the Bill to a referendum for the public to decide the fate of the hotly debated legislation.

While SWAPO MPs have all hailed the Bill, arguing that its presence will bring Namibia on par with other well-developed nations regarding security reasons, the opposition fears that the proposed legislation will allow for intermittent monitoring of electronic data of citizens.

Their worries are that the new law would covertly violate Namibians constitutional guarantee of privacy and fear that SWAPO might use the Bill for covert reasons. Opposing the Bill, Schimming-Chase said it invokes memories of an old dispensation when Namibia was ruled as a police state by the South African authority.

She raised her concern during the debate on the Bill, which is going through its first reading stage. Schimming-Chase said in principle she has no qualms with the Bill, but objected strongly to the clause which calls for monitoring of telephone calls and Internet traffic.

The clause has invoked public outcry, with condemnations streaking in from civil society and citizens questioning the rationale. Said Schimming-Chase I am not against the Communications Bill, but I am vehemently opposed to the attempts to smuggle in articles which will allow the ruling party to spy on our people. She proposed that the Bill be taken for a public referendum.

Sharing the same sentiments was the United Democratic Front (UDF) MP Michael Goreseb, who is of the opinion that the clause be scrapped from the Bill completely. But the Government, through the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, which is sponsoring the Bill, defended the proposed law saying its conduct would not be hazardous or detrimental to citizens just as much as Government has no sinister intention other than the provision of security to the nation.

Governments standpoint is that the clause on interception will be used to collect timely and accurate information on security threats, including major crime, both real and potential, so that quick remedial action is taken to ensure national security and public safety, in essence serving as an early warning system against any impending danger In addition, Government says that the clause was merely to address shortcomings in current laws and to deal with advances in information technology.

Such Act in place is the National Intelligence Services Act of 1997 (NCIS) which forbids any interception of telecommunications, mail or snooping on private premises without a warrant from a High Court judge under specific conditions. Currently such warrants may be issued for a period of only three months renewable only for a further three months if the NCIS can show that other investigative methods have failed.

In terms of the Bill, interception will not be done carte blanche and without reasonable grounds. Where there is strong reason to believe that an individual may be engaged in criminal acts, the Bill provides for the NCIS to approach the Judge President for authorization to intercept their communications.

The NCIS must provide sufficient grounds and justification for their request and only then is interception possible.

Meanwhile the a section of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) in Windhoek is calling for the Communications Bill to be passed immediately before the November National and Presidential elections, reports the daily newspaper New Era on 29 June.

SPYL District Secretary for Tobias Hainyeko, David Negonga, stated the Bill would not result in the interception of private conversations as alleged by some media and political leaders, but has a specific mission towards state security. Negonga said the league has observed in recent weeks that certain media is trying to mislead the nation about the Communication Bill

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