MINISTER in charge of communication, Honourable Mutotwe Kafwaya says Zambia already has laws that permit the government to intercept phone conversations, and as such, only criminals should worry about the proposed Cyber Security Bill because it will target abusers of social media.

KAFWAYA: “You see, we already have laws which allow for checking on calls, the law is already there, in the current laws but the cyber-crime is focusing on crime, anti-crime. If you use the Internet, or cyberspace for good reasons, there is no need to be apprehensive. I don’t see why you should be worried if your only reason for using the internet is commerce, it’s information which is true, it’s good reasons then you don’t have to worry, it’s criminals who should be worried.”

Firstly, Honourable Kafwaya is not being entirely honest in his defence. We have read the Cyber Security Bill and we can speak with confidence that there is a whole list of new breaches to citizens’ privacy that this Bill seeks to achieve. This Bill is very categorical in what it is suggesting or rather proposing:

· The Central Monitoring and Coordination Centre will be the sole facility through which authorised interceptions of phone calls shall be effected.

· The law shall authorise a law enforcement officer to enter any premises and install any device for the interception of phone calls.

· A law enforcement officer will not be required to make an application through the courts of law to intercept communication if: the law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person who is a part to any communication may harm another person or may cause damage to property.

· A law enforcement officer will not be required to make an application through the courts of law to intercept communication if doing so may delay the action of intercepting a specified communication, which may lead to harm.

If these provisions for phone interception already exist, why is the Patriotic Front trying to legislate an already existing law? In our previous editorial opinion, we asked these people in PF to explain which social media or Internet crime cannot be prevented with the existing laws. Can they point at one person who committed a crime on social media and could not be prosecuted because there were no sufficient laws in place for doing so.

We agree with Lusaka lawyer, Mulambo Haimbe who says: “the Cyber Security Bill] as it currently reads is a direct contradiction, a direct violation of the enshrined constitutional rights of the people; and so clearly, it is indicative that the purpose of this legislation in this particular instance is not necessarily to make progressive laws but rather oppressive ones, so that they can have the power to shut down the Internet during elections – as was the case in Uganda”.

We wish to remind the PF that our Constitution gives every citizen the right to safeguard his personal privacy, plus, that of his family. We can’t have the State poking its nose into the affairs of private citizens, opposition leaders, civil rights activists and journalists, simply because they don’t agree with them. We know that these will be the target groups for phone tapping, not criminals as Honourable Kafwaya wants us to believe.

What the PF is trying to do is illegal, immoral and against the tenets of democracy. Human rights recognise that a person has to be protected from intrusions into his or her privacy. The Cyber Security Bill in its current state must be fought and rejected because it will affect our people’s right to privacy as well as right to freedom of speech and expression, both of which are Fundamental Rights under the Constitution.

The timing for this bill is also wrong. Why is the PF rushing this Bill now that we are heading towards elections? Why was it not brought to Parliament for consideration in 2017, 2018, 2019 or even 2020? Where were they? What is so important in this Bill that it cannot wait for the elections to pass first before it can be enacted?

We are concerned, because when he addressed Parliament on this matter, President Edgar Lungu expressed anger at people who criticize the government and threatened them with this Bill. This gives us the impression that they want to use this law to target those with opposing voices and to also regulate the use of social media during critical times such as elections. This means election monitoring may be affected.

We want to urge all members of parliament to think critically before passing this bill. It is a dangerous bill that can and will be used against them. Enacting such laws leaves room for oppressive regimes to abuse them, as we can already see in the application of the Public Order Act. The Cyber Security Bill, in its state, is a bad law, please reject it!