Those abusing the social media to instigate violence, banditry, sabotage and general instability in Zimbabwe will soon be jailed in terms of new regulations being crafted by the Government.
These provisions contained in the draft Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill empower police to intercept private communications and to search and seize electronic gadgets used for criminal activities.
The provisions also bring general use of phones, laptops and desktop computers under scrutiny while protecting law-abiding Internet users from harassment, fraudsters and bullies who now face at least five years’ imprisonment
All violations and penalties stated in the Bill apply to Zimbabweans both at home and outside the country, and offenders can be extradited in terms of the Extradition Act (Chapter 9:08).
Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira is gathering stakeholder views on the proposed law after which he will take it to Parliament.
Two more legislation pieces – the Electronic Transaction and Electronic Commerce Bill and the Data Protection Bill – are also being fine-tuned to back the National ICT Policy and manage cyber space which has for long been abused to foment social disobedience and attack private citizens.
Part of the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill reads: “In this part, the crime of illegal access to or use of a computer, illegal interception, illegal data interference, illegal system interference, and illegal devices is committed in aggravating circumstances
(a) committed in connection with or in furtherance of the commission or attempted commission of the crime of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism, theft, unauthorised borrowing or use of property, extortion, fraud, forgery, malicious damage to property, damaging, destroying or prejudicing the safe operation of an aircraft, concealing, disguising or enjoying the proceeds of the unlawful dealing in dangerous drugs, corruptly using false data or defeating or obstructing the course of justice; or
“(b) the computer, computer network, data, programme or system is owned by the State, a law enforcement agency, the Defence Forces, the Prison Service, a statutory corporation or a local or like authority; or
(c) the crime occasions considerable material prejudice to the owner of the computer, computer network, data, programme or system; or
(d) the crime disrupts or interferes with an essential service.”
Police, according to the Bill, are required to apply to a magistrate for permission to search and seize electronic gadgets, and to intercept private communications to prove criminal cases.
“(1) If a magistrate is satisfied on the basis of an application by a police officer, supported by an affidavit, that there are reasonable grounds to suspect or believe that the content of electronic communications is reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation, the magistrate may:
(a) order an Internet service provider whose service is available in Zimbabwe through application of technical means to collect or record or to permit or assist competent authorities with the collection or recording of content data associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system; or
(b) authorise a police officer to collect or record that data through application of technical means.”
The Bill also says: “Any person, who unlawfully and intentionally generates, possesses and distributes an electronic communication with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, threaten, bully or cause emotional distress, degrade, humiliate or demean the person of another person, using a computer system or information system shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 10 or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.”
ICT expert Mr Tonderai Rutsito said: “Our law-makers need to be proactive in terms of coming up with legislation and not react to situations obtaining on the day and make laws based on that. We need a broader approach where law-making is independent of circumstances of the day.
“The law is, however, a step in the right direction as it complements others such as AIPPA which talk to issues of publishing falsehoods and publishing content that may incite violence. Compared to international standards, the draft is, indeed, a step in the right direction.”
Since July 2016, some shadowy groups going by names like #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag have been trying to instigate civil disobedience under the pretext of “protests” tailored to destabilise Zimbabwe.
United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Harry Thomas and his French sidekick, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, were outed as the architects of the sporadic violence that occurred in pockets of Harare and Bulawayo which was triggered via social media.
Zimbabwe’s security chiefs are on alert, with Zimbabwe National Army Commander Lieutenant-General Phillip Valerio Sibanda saying his charges were ready to deal with cyber-based attempts at destabilisation.
A good number of private citizens have also suffered at the hands of cyber bullies, and one such victim was Harare-based model Tafadzwa Mushunje who was falsely accused of having injected a toddler with HIV-infected blood only for the story to be disproved later.
In June 2016, a suspected paedophile circulated images of two semi-nude girls on WhatsApp, and police are still hunting for him.
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