ACTION Aid Executive Director Nalucha Ziba says the Cyber Security Bill, which is yet to be assented to by the President has pitted citizens against government in a perpetual conflict because it assumes that everyone is a suspect.

And Ziba says once enacted the law will turn all citizens into suspected criminals.

In an interview, Wednesday, Ziba said her organisation would continue to advocate against the bill because many clauses are in conflict with the constitution.

“There is a need for government to fight genuine cyber crimes, the bill contains several provisions that appear to target civic cyber space and would affect further shrinking of the country’s cyber space and political space. The fact is that the bill has been drafted in the context of growing autocratic and targeting of critical voices in the country. And therefore, some of the critical areas of concern which people should be aware of as this bill becomes law is that the bill gives enormous arbitrary powers to the Minister to decree information which he/she believes is important for national security, economical and social well-being of the republic. Critical information for purposes such as, I think that section 17 (1), the Minister by statutory instrument decree information which is important for the protection of national security, economic and social well-being of the republic and critical information for the purposes of this part. Defined broadly under section two, the broader definition of terms entails that information and infrastructure in private hands such as individuals and communication companies, can be declared by the Minister to be critical information or infrastructure. This would effectively bring such information/infrastructure under the control of government,” she said.

“The provisions contains no safeguards to ensure that power should not be used arbitrary. For instance, if you look at section 4 it also blesses the Minister with arbitrary powers. It provides that in section 14 (1) a Minister may in consultation with other relevant agencies issue instructions authorising or directing a person or organisation, specified by regulations, to take such measures, comply with such requirements where the Minister may consider it necessary for purposes of preventing, dictating or countering a threat. A person who may not comply with the measures commits a crime and is liable to a fine not exceeding 1000 penalty units or imprisonment of a term not exceeding three months or both. This provision grants the Minister unilateral powers to issue regulations to order a person or an organisation to take such measures as the Minister may determine for the purposes of preventing or countering any of the threats listed.”

She said the arbitrary powers in the bill are already a threat to fundamental human rights.

“These are sweeping powers which potentially threaten fundamental human rights. For example, it is an exercise for the freedom of expression for individuals and the press to question government contraction of public loans for example from China or any other contractor where the government deems necessary to get loans. A Minister may however deem this to be a threat to governments relations with China. The provisions contain no safeguards to ensure it protects those who are critical of government, or those who genuinely want to disseminate information for the sole purpose of advocacy or sensitisation so that people get to understand the issues surrounding let’s say Zambia’s debt and who the liquidators are,” Ziba said.

“There are provisions that give cyber monitors power to monitor activity or any unlawful activity and to enter premises. The public does not even need to be criminal suspects. The provision gives unlimited powers to government to interfere with the private lives of citizens and the privacy of citizens is not assured. So, therefore as this law comes into effect, the general citizenry has to be cautious especially where they use various communication platforms, laptops computers, phones, just any forms of gadgets or means of communications as it has brought power to search and seize properties as provided in section 11 which gives power to a private inspector with the performance of cyber inspection instructions without prior notice to enter premises.””

She said the bill, once passed will turn all citizens into suspected criminals.

“This is intrusive as it turns every citizen into a criminal suspect. We are all criminal suspects. So, with the coming of this law, we should know now that everyone one of us is a suspect based on the usage of your phone, your laptop, your computers and others. Just to point out that this law, there are some inconsistencies that it has with the republican constitution. So, when you look at the law, it shows that a person who is being investigated under this law cannot choose to remain silent, this obliges them to furnish the authority with information. This is a violation of the right to remain silent. The constitution says a person who is convicted shall not be compelled to give evidence upon conviction. And looking at the conduct of the law enforcement agencies especially the police when it comes to protection of citizens rights and human rights, overtime it has become questionable. So, this law will put a lot of citizens to be in conflict with the state. being a human right and a rights based organisation we will continue to engage government and the general citizenry on provisions that need to be amended in this law,” said Ziba.