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ICA – Intimidation and Censorship Act

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On Friday 3 August the Government Gazette announced that President Mugabe has signed the Interception of Communications Act into law, with immediate effect.

To draw on a MISA-Zimbabwe press statement issued 3 August:

The Act will make lawful the interception and monitoring of communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunications, postal or any other related service or system in Zimbabwe. The Act also provides for the establishment of a monitoring centre.

An interception warrant, to be issued by the Minister of Transport and Communications maybe applied for by the Chief of Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Commissioner of Police, and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority or any of their nominees.

Service providers, among them Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are required to install systems which are “technically capable of supporting lawful interception at all times.” ISPs will not have long to comply with this law as the Act clearly states that regulations to this effect will be issued within two months of the commencement of this Act.

For more information on the Bill and commentary and analysis around it, have a look at Kubatana’s index of articles on the matter.

It is a draconian, intimidatory and privacy-violating piece of legislation, and the text of it is heart-stoppingly jaw-droppingly stomach-sickeningly blatant in its shameless repression. The government has tried to pawn it off as no different from similar legislation in the US, UK, or South Africa, for example. But what kind of a standard is that? Just because repressive legislation exists elsewhere – even in the so-called developed, established democracies, is that any reason to impose it here?

Essentially, the law legalises what many suspect the state has been doing for years. Whether and to what extent it has the capacity – technically but also in terms of staffing hours, etc – to monitor telephone calls, email exchanges, letters, text messages, and so forth is unclear. But many have suspected the state of surveillance and recording measures long before this Bill was introduced, as the furore around Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube recently reveals.

So the promulgation of the law is not surprising, but it is discouraging. What does it mean for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe? I see it as one more lock on the door stopping people from confidently speaking their minds. Sadly, it is a door many were stuck behind already. Even before this law, we have seen some Zimbabwean activists choose not to publish or speak their opinions openly, opting for anonymity, pseudonyms and silence. As I wrote last year, the ways in which this legislation will further encourage self-censorship are as dangerous as the provisions of the law itself.

The best way to resist it, therefore, is through more voices, more expression, and more openness. That oft-repeated Steve Biko quote remains as true today as ever – the greatest tool of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Not to belittle Biko’s legacy on the thirty year anniversary of his death, but the best way for all of us to resist this law is to write what we like – and to write it boldly, loudly and often – and to stand firm in our right to not just write and speak, but to hear and read what we like as well. It’s easy to track down two or twenty or even two hundred vocal, truth exposing, active individual and organisations. Finding twenty thousand, or two million, would be much, much harder.

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