ALLIANCE for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti says government is being untruthful about the real objectives of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill because 83 out of 90 sections are designed to enable the State access citizens’ communications.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Miti cautioned that only seven out of the entire 90 sections of the contentious Bill were targeted at addressing cybercrimes, leaving the overwhelming majority giving the State excessive power to access citizens’ communication via searches and inordinate levels of surveillance.

“I have read the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill in its entirety and can summarise it as follows: that the government is being untruthful about the objectives of the Bill, is seen in that a total of only seven out of the 90 sections in the Bill address child pornography, pornography, cyberbullying or terrorism. The rest give the State power to access citizen communication via searches and inordinate levels of surveillance. It is a deeply problematic Bill that would fundamentally infringe on citizen rights to express themselves and to privacy. The Bill’s evil is in its intention to prejudicially punish citizens via harassment, searches, surveillance, and seizures of data and information on the accusation of very indefinite crimes for which they could very probably be acquitted,” Miti stated.

She cautioned that if the Bill was passed, it would invalidate confidentiality clauses that staff sign with an employer.

“The Bill, if passed, will invalidate confidentiality clauses that staff sign. For example, a staff member of an organisation under investigation can reveal confidential information with no consequences. Similarly, a journalist can reveal a source or details of an investigative story and the employer be prevented from punishing them. Government’s claim that the Bill is primarily meant to protect children against sexual exploitation and citizens from cyberbullying is patently untrue. The (Transport and Communications) Minister can declare any person a law enforcement officer for purposes of this proposed law. By this provision, the Minister could give authority to a party cadre or a foreign agent to search premises to investigate a possible crime that is not detailed in the Act. [It] can allow the State to insert a mole (spy) in an organisation who can then reveal information without fear of confidentiality clauses in their employment contract,” she stated.

Miti also observed that service providers would be compelled to intercept communication and send it to the State for review.

“Service providers will be required to intercept communication and send it to the State. To do so, they must acquire sophisticated equipment at their own cost. Property, including physical, can be forfeited to the State on conviction of a crime set out in the Bill, small or large. The State can cooperate with rogue foreign states to investigate and harass citizens. The Act will apply to communication done in other countries. Zambians living abroad can, therefore, be arrested on their return for something they posted while in another country. Anyone can make an accusation that communication is a ‘security threat,’ and a crime is about to be committed and, therefore, instigate a full-scale investigation whose parameters are shockingly extensive. In the process of a search, law enforcement officers can bodily search anyone found on the premises. (The Bill is kind enough to say, ‘the search can only be conducted by someone of the same sex’),” Miti explained.

She stated that all provisions of the Bill were strangely negated.

“Most frightening of all is Section 89, which is the killer punch and I will quote it in full: ‘the Authority may, by declaration, exempt a person or class of persons for a limited or unlimited period of time from the requirement to abide by the provisions of this Act.’ By this one section (89), all provisions of the Bill are strangely negated. Most significantly, section 89 provides that all protections of citizen rights in the Bill, minimal as they already are, can be set aside by a declaration (whose form the Bill does not define) made by the Minister. Thus, for example, anyone the Minister dresses up as a law enforcement officer can legally raid a premise and seize information and property, without a judge hearing the premise of that investigation,” cautioned Miti.

“That is the summary of yet another offering in this government’s ongoing attempt to legislate dictatorship into being. The question, as ever, is why? What ill is the government trying to remedy by such a draconian Bill? The only explanation I see is that the Bill’s primary objective is to harass and, thereby, silence critics of the government, as the President announced in Parliament.”