Tichaona Sibanda, SW Radio Africa
October 1, 2013
A government spy program will now monitor phone calls, text, email and the details will be kept in a national database for use on demand by the state security agencies.
Under a new government regulation gazetted last week Friday, authorities will order broadband providers, landline and mobile phone companies to save the information for up to five years. This is under a security scheme contained in the new constitution that seeks to safeguard national security.
According to the Statutory Instrument 142 of 2013 details about text messages, phone calls, emails and every website visited by members of the public will be kept on record, in a bid to combat crime.
ICT expert Robert Ndlovu told SW Radio Africa that under the terms of the legislation, agreed to by parties that drafted the new charter, the content of such communications would be stored but theoretically inaccessible, unless there was a warrant issued by a senior police officer or judicial officer. Ndlovu added that the information will be stored by individual companies rather than the government.
The same law now prohibits telecommunications companies from activating SIM cards that are not fully registered. Providing false information upon registering a SIM card, such as regarding one's residential address, is now an offence.
All mobile phone users with unregistered SIM cards have been given a 30-day ultimatum starting next Tuesday to register them, while those registered, whose addresses have changed, are expected to notify their service providers within 21 days.
Unsurprisingly, privacy campaigners are up in arms about the plan which many fear will be abused by ZANU PF for political purposes. There have been cases where the CIO has snooped on Robert Mugabe's political opponents, such as former Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai.
'Every country in the world that I know of has similar laws but the motives of such regulations are open to debate. In the USA and European countries, they use the law to fight terrorism.
'In Zimbabwe it could be that they want to use it to fight poaching, where poachers have killed over 90 elephants using cyanide. But we all know they have been illegally snooping on their political opponents, so blanket collection, without suspicion becomes problematic to privacy activists,' Ndlovu said.